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SEX AND FIELDWORK

It is unreasonable to assume that single, adult fieldworkers are all celibate, yet the literature on field methods was nearly silent on this topic for many years. When Evans-Pritch- ard was a student, just about to head off for Central Africa, he asked his major professor for advice. ‘‘Seligman told me to take ten grains of quinine every night and keep off women’’ (Evans-Pritchard 1973:1). As far as I know, that’s the last we heard from Evans- Pritchard on the subject.

Colin Turnbull (1986) tells us about his affair with a young Mbuti woman, and Dona Davis (1986) discusses her relationship with an engineer who visited the Newfoundland village where she was doing research on menopause. In Turnbull’s case, he had graduated from being an asexual child in Mbuti culture to being a youth and was expected to have sexual relations. In Davis’s case, she was expected not to have sexual relations, but she also learned that she was not bound by the expectation. In fact, Davis says that ‘‘being paired off’’ made women more comfortable with her because she was ‘‘simply breaking a rule everyone else broke’’ (1986:254).

Proscriptions against sex in fieldwork are silly, because they don’t work. But understand that this is one area that people everywhere take very seriously. The rule on sexual behavior in the field is this: Do nothing that you can’t live with, both professionally and personally. This means that you have to be even more conscious of any fallout, for you and for your partner, than you would in your own community. Eventually, you will be going home. How will that affect your partner’s status? (Further Reading: sex and fieldwork).

 
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