Since 1988, when I wrote the first edition of this book, I’ve heard from many colleagues that their departments are offering courses in research methods. This is wonderful. Anthropologists of my generation, trained in the 1950s and 1960s, were hard-pressed to find courses we could take on how do research. There was something rather mystical about the how-to of fieldwork; it seemed inappropriate to make the experience too methodical. The mystique is still there. Anthropological fieldwork is fascinating and dangerous. Seriously: Read Nancy Howell’s 1990 book on the physical hazards of fieldwork if you think this is a joke. But many anthropologists have found that participant observation loses none of its allure when they collect data systematically and according to a research design. Instead, they learn that having lots of reliable data when they return from fieldwork makes the experience all the more magical.
I wrote this book to make it easier for students to collect reliable data beginning with their first fieldwork experience.We properly challenge one another’s explanations for why Hindus don’t eat their cattle and why, in some cultures, mothers are more likely than fathers are to abuse their children. That’s how knowledge grows. Whatever our theories, though, all of us need data on which to test those theories. The methods for collecting and analyzing data belong to all of us.