Safety Issue in Doing Fieldwork

One of the major concerns in doing a fieldwork is about the safety issue. Since Jeffrey A. Sluka (1995) argued that even today when we think the world is a much safer place compared to the past, ethnographic fieldwork is still a dangerous task especially if research is conducted in a conflict area. The conflict itself is not always related to war or revolution, but can also be formed as sociopolitical conflicts. Many ethnographers who have been conducting these kinds of fieldwork became victims since they failed to calculate the possibility of the dangers of the study.

Neil L. Whitehead (2002) once studied a dangerous area when he was doing ethnography of kanaimà in Guyana. While he was interested in understanding this dark shamanic practice within the culture, he also experienced the threat of kanaimà where it almost took his life. However, rather than to argue what he experienced as something to be avoided, he believed it was inevitable. He said that the threat was part of the unforeseen consequences of his close engagement with the informants (Whitehead, 2002).

While maintaining a close relationship with informants resulted in an advantage for the study, it also influenced the objectivity of the researcher. In a conflict situation, sometimes it requires the ethnographer to take sides with one of the groups that are involved in the conflict. June Nash (1976) explained when she worked on her study about tin-miners groups in the revolution era in Bolivia, she had to take their side. Additionally, she claimed that it was not possible to remain neutral. The consequence was she had to face threats from the ‘government agency’ and even was suspected as a spy. While she was concerned about her own safety, she was also afraid that her data during the fieldwork would jeopardize the safety of the informants. Therefore, to be able to calculate the risk and to be prepared for any possibilities remained important. Read the rest of this entry

When the ‘Other’ Talks Back

Ethnographic fieldwork is a difficult task especially if the ethnographer has not anticipated certain obstacles that might occur during the field research. Rejection from the research subjects can be avoided by any experienced and trained ethnographer, but it is more difficult to handle when our research subject ‘talks back’ to us after the actual study has been done. Moreover, this feedback is not always good. It can be a cruel, critical, misinterpretation, or even an offensive statement from those who were our valuable informants. These conditions were discussed within the articles from Vine Deloria Jr. (1973), Cecil King (1997), Ofra Greenberg (1993), and Nancy Scheper-Hughes (2000).

Deloria (1973) wrote the article as a critique of the ethnographers and called them outsider intruders or even vultures. According to his argument, ethnographers are seen as a curse for Native American communities where they have been treated as objects by these researchers. The ethnographers thought that they were the most knowledgeable about how the Indians should behave and practice their culture. Only interested in studying Indian communities on reservations, ethnographers tended to neglect the negative side effect of their presence within the Indian reservations and often made the situation worse. For example, when some researchers tried to study how Indian communities adapted to modern life, rather than support them to survive, ethnographers criticized the way they lived and said it was not how the Indian culture should be. After the research was completed, these ethnographers wrote books, published their articles, and achieved their academic careers, while the Indians were still struggling with poverty and also losing their identity as Indians. Read the rest of this entry

Fieldwork and Rapport

The major issue about fieldwork and rapport is how the ethnographer maintains his/her objectivity and subjectivity at the same time. While the concept of participant observation itself requires involvement such as ‘going native’ but at the same time we are encouraged to be able to have a detachment with the subject of our research. The problem of how to maintain intimacy and simultaneously to keep a ‘safe distance’ during the fieldwork has been aptly described by Charles Wagley (1960), Gerald D. Berreman (1972), and Antonius Robben (2012) in their writings. Read the rest of this entry

Ethnographer’s Identity

The main issue pointed out by Robben and Sluka (2012) is how ethnographers’ reflexivity is involved in the ways they interpret reality and further how they transcribe their findings. According to articles written by several scholars such as Hortense Powdermaker, Roschanack Shaery-Eisenlohr, Paul Spencer and also Walter Williams, ethnography fieldwork is considered difficult to exclude from researcher’s own personal identities. Therefore, these identities often consolidate and eventually are seen as an advantage while doing the fieldwork.

Powdermaker explained that her gender identity as a female ethnographer was considered to be beneficial when she was not only involved in women’s group in Melanesian society but also penetrated the men’s ritual ceremonies. It enabled her to participate in certain roles within the culture. This advantage might not have occurred if the ethnographer was male. However, while she felt her role as a female ‘outsider’ was welcomed by the society, sometimes she also carried by her emotional aspect while faced by certain conditions within the culture. This facts influenced how she interpreted the data. Moreover, she also felt no matter how she maintained a close relationship with the society she will never be an actual member of that society and will always be an outsider. Read the rest of this entry

How to Define ‘Good’ Ethnography Fieldwork

There are several fundamental aspects related to how to define a ‘good’ ethnographic fieldwork. Each scholar might have different criteria for this issue. For example, Joseph-Marie Degérando explained that a good ethnographic fieldwork primarily requires some methods such as collecting facts and make comparisons in order to gain a better understanding of what we observe. Furthermore, he also argued that ethnographer should not only focus on collecting physical cultural material while gathering data to explain needs, ideas, and habits of a cultural group remain important for a research. To have a proper skill to collect field data is an essential requirement, but to analyze these data is no less important.

Degérando criticized previous studies, which were mainly done by explorer rather than scholars that they were neglecting a generous intention when they observed a new culture that they have found. He also mentioned cruel intentions that have been done by turning these ‘savage peoples’ into slaves, robbed their belongings, or taking them only for these explorer’s benefits. They were interested in discovering new countries rather than to understand them. Degérando further argued that they tended to be biased in understanding these cultures and also try to compare it with their own European society. These attitudes will result not only in biased interpretation, but also in a totally wrong conclusion. Read the rest of this entry

Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria

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Larkin, B. (2008). Signal and noise: Media, infrastructure, and urban culture in Nigeria. Durham; London: Duke University Press. 313 pages.

The rise of Nigerian media, especially the cinema, is not something that came suddenly from the sky. It was a long and winding road of the media to become something significant, not only in Nigeria but also on the African continent. However, there are only a few explanations about how the media evolution happened in this area of the world. Brian Larkin, through his book Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria (2008), explores how society reacts to the media as something sublime, and in return they are also evolving alongside with the media. Using ethnography, Larkin’s description is very detailed in portraying the media as a controversial issue at its first arrival, and how it influences the society in dealing with modernity.

Larkin arranged his book into seven chapters. At first, he discusses about the colonial’s role in introducing the media to Nigeria, then moves on to the radio, cinema, Nigerian films, and ends with the piracy issue. He explains the media evolution using an analogy where he describes the media transmission of the message as signal and the obstacles from the political, social, cultural and religious values as the noise. Media are also considered more as infrastructure or hardware, and the society’s values as the software. Read the rest of this entry

Islam in the Digital Age: E-Jihad, Online Fatwas and Cyber Islamic Environments

Book Review

Bunt, G. A. (2003). Islam in the Digital Age: E-Jihad, Online Fatwas and Cyber Islamic Environments. London: Pluto Press. 237 pages.

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Islam is usually seen as a community left behind in the matter of technology. The majority of Muslim community does not live in developed countries. Therefore, this conclusion makes sense. Only those who live in an advanced country will be benefit from by the technology, while the Muslim majority had not had this privilege. However, this perception nowadays is relatively incorrect because of the technology penetration, especially communication technology such as the Internet since it is becoming global. This trend makes the Muslim community in each part of the world now have the same access to the Internet as the rest.

More than just recognizing the fact that the Muslim world today has gained the Internet literacy, it is rather significant to explore what will the Muslim world do with the Internet. While there are numerous research and literature about the Muslim world and the mass media, there are still low studies which have identified the relationship between the Muslim world and the Internet practices. This deficit is worsened by the stereotype that has been given to Islam and the technology like the conclusion that the Muslim community has left behind. However, this perception is getting more critiques especially because there is a change happening in the Muslim world in this digital era. Gary Bunt tries to offer a closer observation of this brand new phenomenon with a more narrative language and also wants to offer explanation on how the Muslim communities interact with and within the virtual world like the Internet.

In general, this book develops three major issues which are covered in several chapters. His discussion started with his attempt to define the concept of Cyber Islamic Environment. His idea about this concept is based on the simple definition that Cyber Islamic Environment is anything that a Muslim does related to the Internet activities with the emphasis on his/her religiousness and identity expressions. Although this concept is relatively general, Bunt’s definition helps to describe how a Muslim as an individual, as a community or an institution interacts with and within the Internet in reference to their religious faith as a Muslim. For instance, it helps us to understand how the Muslims’ daily basic practices in using email, mailing lists, chat-rooms, social media, web based forum discussions are mentioned as the examples of the concept of Cyber Islamic Environment.

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Pengantar Metode Penelitian Komunikasi

Berbicara ilmu komunikasi dalam ranah akademis, maka mau tidak mau kita berkutat dengan apa yang disebut sebagai metodologi penelitian. Untuk itu, bagi setiap kita yang mempelajari komunikasi sebagai suatu ilmu yang ilmiah dalam kajian akademik adalah suatu keharusan untuk mengenal, memahami, dan juga mampu mengaplikasikan beragam pendekatan di dalam metode penelitian komunikasi. Dengan menerapkan metode penelitian komunikasi dengan tepat maka diharapkan kita dapat lebih memahami konteks beragam fenomena komunikasi secara lebih ilmiah.


Mengingat sangat beragamnya pendekatan, metode, paradigma, hingga teknik penelitian komunikasi, maka ada baiknya kita mencoba untuk mengenali pelbagai variannya. Dengan mengenali berbagai tipe penelitian maka kita dapat menentukan motode atau teknik apa yang cocok untuk meneliti suatu kasus dan mana yang kiranya kurang tepat. Kecermatan dalam memiilih metode yang digunakan pada nantinya akan mempengaruhi bagaimana kualitas penelitian itu sendiri.

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Sputnik Sweetheart

Sputnik Sweetheart (Cover © Nobuyoshi Araki)

Pada suatu hari aku jatuh cinta kepada seorang wanita. Suatu hari yang lain wanita itu juga bilang jika ia jatuh cinta. Sayangnya, aku bukan orang yang beruntung itu. Wanita itu jatuh cinta kepada seorang wanita yang 17 tahun lebih tua dari dirinya. Sejak itu aku menyimpan perasaan ini di dalam hati karena aku akan bahagia jika melihat wanita yang aku cintai berbahagia bersama orang yang ia cintai pula.

Kisah cinta segitiga ini adalah pokok cerita yang ingin diceritakan oleh Haruki Murakami di dalam novel Sputnik Sweetheart. Seakan tidak ingin menyederhanakan persoalan, kisah cinta antara seorang pria kepada wanita, seorang wanita kepada wanita, dan bagaimana cinta bernegosiasi dengan situasi, mimpi, dan juga masa lalu, diikat dalam sebuah rangkaian tulisan yang sederhana namun sekaligus rumit.

Murakami menggunakan sudut pandang seorang pria bernama K sebagai narator dalam cerita ini. K sebagai tokoh aku memendam perasaan kepada sahabatnya, Sumire, sosok perempuan yang tomboy dan tidak mengenal istilah berdandan, memiliki impian menjadi seorang penulis novel, memiliki sifat yang polos dan apa adanya. Kedekatan antara keduanya ternyata menyimpan tembok penghalang, yaitu sosok wanita lain bernama Miu. Read the rest of this entry

Kafka on the Shore

Kafka on the Shore - Haruki Murakami

Kehidupan itu ibaratnya adalah sebuah labirin. Ia bagaikan sebuah misteri yang aneh sekaligus absurd. Atau dalam bahasa Haruki Murakami disebut ”tragedi”. Dalam bukunya kali ini, Kafka on the Shore kisah ini coba dinarasikan dalam perjalanan seorang anak laki-laki berusia 15 tahun bernama Kafka Tamura.

Tepat setelah hari ulang tahunnya yang ke-lima belas, Kafka melarikan diri dari rumahnya di Nagano untuk kemudian berpetualang seorang diri tanpa ada tujuan. Berbekal ransel, uang secukupnya, ia mendamparkan dirinya dalam perjalanan dengan bus hingga tiba di Takamatsu.

Sebagaimana umumnya sebuah perjalanan, ia juga berjumpa dengan karakter lainnya, Sakura, yang ia asumsikan sebagai kakaknya yang telah hilang di masa lalu. Kita seringkali berjumpa dengan seorang yang baru kita kenal, tapi entah kenapa kita sering berpikir bahwa setidaknya sepertinya di masa lalu kita pernah berjumpa dengan orang tersebut. Mungkin bagian dari kehidupan kita sebelumnya.

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