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Contemplating Fieldwork

Graduate School, Arts at Aarhus University


Anthropologists pride themselves on their principal research method: fieldwork. Although having come under pressure, long-term immersion in the lived worlds of those whose lives and ways of understanding themselves, their relationship to others and to the environment, remains the gold standard of anthropology in practice. The idea is, of course, that by living, to the extent possible, together with those we study, anthropologists are able to learn important aspects of what it is like to live such a life.

Anthropologists themselves, then, are their most important research instrument: their own experience, their own perception, their own felt sense of what it is like to engage in a certain practice, to live a certain life. And as is commonly said, this experience of fieldwork often, if not always, also changes, to a lesser or greater degree, the anthropologist. Fieldwork is, in this sense, a transformative experience. Despite this, and despite a long and rich tradition of anthropological writing about the practice and experience of fieldwork, only little attention and space is given in our training to familiarising ourselves with how we, as individual persons, actually experience.

In this course, we will explore lived experience in theory and in practice. We will discuss and learn ways in which we can develop our ability to be present to our experience, to be witness to more of its dynamic and multimodal aspects – sensorily, emotionally, physically, mentally. Drawing on micro-phenomenological and contemplative techniques, such as mindfulness, we can strengthen our capacity to bring to consciousness aspects of our experience that otherwise remain underspecified or unrecognized. We will become more familiar with how we respond and engage as fully embodied beings, and how we actively participate in creating the world, the life, we experience. Such training can provide greater clarity and precision not only in terms of knowledge about ourselves and our own particular ways of being and experiencing, but also about those whose lives we study.

The course will consist of one full-day workshop, combining talks, discussions, experiments, and practical skills development, and a half-day follow-up workshop.

Preparatory readings for the course will include a limited amount of literature, e.g., on/ from phenomenological anthropology, the anthropology of experience and emotions, micro-phenomenology, and contemporary contemplative traditions.

Students will be expected to submit a five-page written reflection/assignment in advance of each of the two workshops.


We will become more familiar with how we respond and engage as fully embodied beings, and how we actively participate in creating the world and the life, we experience. By enhancing clarity and precision regarding our experience, such training can strengthen the validity of our observations during fieldwork. It may also be of help when fieldwork is personally demanding and potentially stressful.



Target group:

Anthropologists and other PhD students who engage in long-term fieldwork.




Seminar with lectures, discussions, experiments, and practical skills training. Students will be expected to engage in practical exercises and reflections between the first and second workshop/meeting. Short writing assignments will be expected in advance of each of the two workshops.


2.5 ECTS


Martijn van Beek

Dates and time:

Wednesday, 25 September 2019: full-day / tentative start and end: 9:00 - 17:00

Wednesday, 20 November 2019: half-day follow-up - start and end to be announced


25 September 2019: Moesgaard Museum, Højbjerg Allé 15, 8270 Højbjerg, building 4240, room 301

20 November 2019: Aarhus University's conference centre, Fredrik Nielsens Vej 4, 8000 Aarhus C, room "Preben Hornungstuen"

Application deadline:

Please apply for a spot via no later than 15 August 2019.



Course dates
25 September 2019 - 20 November 2019
Martijn van Beek
25 September: Moesgaard Museum, Moesgård Allé 15
4240, room 301
2,5 points

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