Doing Ethnographic Fieldwork With Japanese Americans as a “Native Anthropologist”


By using the author’s recent work on Japanese Americans in the United States, this case study describes the process of ethnographic fieldwork, a qualitative research method employed by sociologists and anthropologists who wish to write ethnographies, that is, in-depth descriptive analyses of local communities and social groups which illuminate the daily, lived experiences of their members. The two methodologies used most often by fieldworkers, semi-structured interviews and participant observation, are discussed in detail and illustrated with the author’s research. For semi-structured interviews, the process of sampling, interviewing, and adequate sample size are covered and contrasted with larger scale, quantitative survey research. Participant observation is then described as an important research method that both complements and is essential for interviewing, and its logistical challenges in terms of field notetaking are illustrated. In recent decades, there has also been an increasing number of “native anthropologists” who study ethnic groups and communities of which they are a member (like the author, who is also Japanese American). However, the purported advantages of doing fieldwork as a native anthropologist are questioned, and the author argues that even researchers who study their own people face cultural differences and difficulties of social acceptance by their research participants like non-native anthropologists. However, the case study concludes by arguing that such cultural differences we encounter in the field are essential for ethnographic fieldwork and knowledge.

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