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The Break

The mid-fieldwork break, which usually comes after 3 or 4 months, is a crucial part of the overall participant observation experience for long-term researchers. It’s an opportunity to get some distance, both physical and emotional, from the field site. It gives you a chance to put things into perspective, think about what you’ve got so far, and what you need to get in the time remaining. Use this time to collect data from regional or national statistical services; to visit with colleagues at the local university and discuss your findings; to visit other communities in other parts of the country. And be sure to leave some time to just take a vacation, without thinking about research at all.

Your informants also need a break from you. “Anthropologists are uncomfortable intruders no matter how close their rapport,’’ wrote Charles Wagley. ‘‘A short respite is mutually beneficial. One returns with objectivity and human warmth restored. The anthropologist returns as an old friend’’ who has gone away and returned, and has thereby demonstrated his or her genuine interest in a community (Wagley 1983:13). Everyone needs a break.

 
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