111th AAA Annual Meeting
November 14-18, 2012
San Francisco, CA
Borders and Crossings
DOING FIELDWORK IN CHINA...WITH KIDS!
Tami Blumenfield, Ph.D., (Lewis & Clark College)
Candice Cornet, Ph.D., (Université de Montréal)
The People's Republic of China (PRC) has been opened to foreign social
science researchers for over two decades now, but obtaining permission to
undertake extensive research remains a difficult trek in the hierarchic
maze of Chinese bureaucracy. In their edited book Doing Fieldwork in
China, Heimer and Thøgersen (2006) provide numerous insights into the
challenges of accessing and collecting data in the PRC. Similarly, Bamo et
al. (2007) take a reflexive approach to doing fieldwork and consider the
polyphony of research (Clifford, cited in Bamo et al., 2007: 291).
Yet although numerous articles and books (Butler and Turner, 1987) have
been published on doing fieldwork with children elsewhere in the world
(Cassell, 1987; Huntington, 1987; Flinn, Marshall, Amstrong, 1998;
Gottlieb, Graham, Gottlieb-Graham, 1998; Sutton, 1998; Starrs et al.,
2001; Frohlick, 2002; Cupples and Kindon, 2003; Levey, 2009), none have
pointed to the particularities of doing so in the PRC.
We believe ethnography to be essentially a boundary crossing endeavor
(c.f. Frohlick, 2002: 50) in which not only geographical boundaries are
crossed but also boundaries of self, of our discipline, our sites and our
research communities. In addition, when a child is present we are forced
to cross the boundary between private and public spheres, one which,
ironically, has tended to remain separate in writing. By crossing
boundaries, by making visible private aspects of fieldwork related to
childrearing, anthropologists can avoid presenting themselves as
Bringing children to the field in the PRC reveals particularities
regarding issues of education, hygiene, nutrition, and family
relationships amongst others. In a country where children tend to be
valued and are often put under extreme pressure to succeed (due in large
part to the planned birth policies), the presence of a child along with a
foreign researcher triggers a variety of reactions. It may bring
challenges and opportunities to the anthropologist both in terms of
enhancing or delaying the research and in the establishment of
relationships in the field.
We aim, through this panel, to consider some of the issues related to
doing fieldwork with kids in the PRC, hoping to contribute to research on
the intricacies of fieldwork in a socialist country. The objective is both
to consider the particularities of doing fieldwork with kids in the PRC,
and what doing so reveals about local customs and beliefs, while also
reflecting on the positionality of the researcher and its impact on the
construction of knowledge. We are particularly interested in fieldwork
experiences since 2000 that implicated the presence of the researcher's
children, whether school-age or preschool and whether the researcher was a
mother or a father (or where both were present). We also anticipate
publishing a journal special issue or volume on this topic following the
The panel will be proposed as an invited session for the Society of East
Bamo, A. S. Harrell and M. Lunzi (2007). Fieldwork Connections: The
fabric of ethnographic
collaboration in China and America. Seattle, Washington: University of
Butler, B. and D.M. Turner (eds.) (1987). Children and Anthropological
Research. New York:
Cassell, J. (ed.) (1987). Children in the Field: Anthropological
Experiences. Philadelphia: Temple
Cupples, J. and S. Kindon (2003). "Far from being 'home alone': the
dynamics of accompanied
Fieldwork," Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 24(2): 211-228.
Flinn, J., Marshall, L., Armstrong, J.(1998) Fieldwork and Families:
Constructing New Models for
Ethnographic Research. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
Frohlick, Susan E. (2002) "'You Brought Your Baby to Base Camp?' Families
and Field Sites." The
Great Lakes Geographer 9(1)49-58.
Gottlieb, A., P. Graham, N. Gottlieb-Graham (1998) "Infants, Ancestors,
and the Afterlife:
Fieldwork's Family Values in Rural West Africa." Anthropology and Humanism
Huntington, G. E. (1987). "Different apron strings: Children as field
Organization, 46, 83-5.
Heimer, M. and Thøgersen, S. (2006) (eds.). Doing Fieldwork in China.
Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
Levey, Hilary (2009). "'Which One Is Yours?': Children and Ethnography."
Starrs, P.F., C.F. Starrs, G.I. Starrs, L. Huntsinger (2001).
"Fieldwork... with Family." Geographical
Review 91(1-2): 74-87.
Sutton, David (1998). "'He's Too Cold!' Children and the Limits of Culture
on a Greek Island."
Anthropology and Humanism 23(2):127-138.