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CUSAS Colloquium 2015

When May 27, 2015
from 09:30 AM to 05:00 PM
Where Seminar Room, Social Anthropology
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The Exposed Ethnographer: Reflections on Risk, Difficulty and Vulnerability in the Field

A Colloquium for Early-Career Ethnographers and other Field-based Researchers

Spaces for this event are limited, to register go to If the event is oversubscribed, preference will be given first to PhD students, and then to MPhils.

Scope & Rationale

Conducting ethnographic fieldwork and other field-based research entails implicit risk and difficulty. Field researchers may expect to encounter a range of challenges, including navigating new and unknown cultural terrain, encountering ethical and legal dilemmas, and managing the gap that exists between expectations of the fieldwork experience and its reality. Less frequently discussed challenges include negotiating new expectations related to one’s gender and sexual identity, the risk of witnessing or experiencing physical or sexual violence, and dealing with illness and mental health concerns. For students and early-career researchers, this can be a time of particular vulnerability, during which difficult situations are often confronted alone.

Despite such realities, explicit discussion of risk or difficulty is rarely given space in either academic literature or methodological training courses, potentially leaving first-time researchers with the impression that their own failures or difficulties are not the norm. Yet informal conversations in the corridors reveal that encountering risk and difficulty of some sort is the norm, not the exception. As such, this colloquium seeks to provide a space for early-career ethnographers and other field-based researchers to reflect on the various types of difficulties that may be encountered in the field, and to consider the practical implications of such risks for the research that we do. Our purpose here is not raise undue alarm, nor to construct ‘the field’ as a necessarily distant, exotic or dangerous place; rather, we hope to create a safe space for an honest and constructive conversation around issues that may otherwise be difficult to discuss.

This interdisciplinary colloquium has been organized primarily with PhD students and other early career researchers who conduct field-based research in mind, though master’s level students, and upper year undergraduates may also attend. The event will be hosted by CUSAS (Cambridge University Social Anthropology Society); panelists include post-fieldwork PhD students and recently graduated PhDs from a variety of disciplines.


The colloquium will be organized around the following five panels: Demystifying the Field, Encountering Risk and Failure; Legal and Ethical Dilemmas; Gender and Sexuality; Working in Politically Sensitive Environments, and session on Self-Care and Welfare. Panelists will be asked to reflect on their own experiences for fifteen minutes, with equal time given for conversation and reflection.

Tentative Schedule

9:30 – 9:50    Registration, Tea & Coffee

9:50 – 10:00      Welcome and Opening Remarks

10:00 – 10:55  Panel I: Demystifying the Field, Encountering Risk and Failure
Keynote Speakers: Amy Pollard (Involve, Cambridge alumna); Imogen Clark (Oxford)
Panel Facilitatory: Christina Woolner (Cambridge)

11:00 – 12:30     Panel II: Gender and Sexuality
Panelists: Regina Hansda (Cambridge); Matt McGuire (Cambridge); Susan MacDougall (Oxford)
Panel Facilitator: Andrea Grant (Cambridge)

12:30  – 1:30     Lunch

1:30  – 3:00     Panel III: Legal and Ethical Dilemmas
Panelists: Jonah Rimer (Oxford); Carys Banks (Bath); Patrick O’Hare (Cambridge)
Panel Facilitator: Corinna Howland (Cambridge)

3:00  – 3:15     Tea/Coffee Break

3:15  – 4:15    Panel IV: Working in Politically Sensitive Contexts
Panelists: Fiona Wright (Cambridge); Andrea Grant (Cambridge)
Panel Facilitator: Imogen Clark (Oxford)

4:15  –  4:45    Self-Care and Welfare
Lisa Halpern (University Counselling Service)
Facilitator: Jonah Rimer (Oxford)

4:45  – 5:00     Closing Remarks

Resources and Readings

Amrith, M. et al. 2008. ‘Harvesting Failure in the Field: An Ethnographic Apprenticeship in Coping with the Unexpected’, Cambridge Anthropology, 2008/9 28 (1): 61-83.

Clark, I., & A. Grant (eds). 2015. ‘Special Issue on Sexual Harassment in the Field.’ Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford, 2 (1), available:

Gill, P. & E. Temple. 2014. ‘Walking the Fine Line Between Fieldwork Success and Failure: Advice for New Ethnographers,’ Journal of Research Practice, 10 (1), available online:

Pollard, A. 2009. ‘Field of screams: Difficulty and ethnographic fieldwork.’ Anthropology Matters 11(2): 1-24, available:

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