Fieldwork Connections

The Fabric of Ethnographic Collaboration in China and America

Bamo Ayi, Stevan Harrell, and Ma Lunzy

  • Published: July 2015
  • Subject Listing: Anthropology; Asian Studies / China
  • Bibliographic information: 384 pp., 56 photos, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Fieldwork Connections tells the story of the intertwined research histories of three anthropologists working in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan, China in the late twentieth century. Chapters are written alternately by a male American anthropologist, a male researcher raised in a village in Liangshan, and a highly educated woman from an elite Nuosu/Chinese family. As decades of mutual ethnographic research unfold, the authors enter one another's narratives and challenge the reader to ponder the nature of ethnographic "truth."

The book begins with short accounts of the process by which each of the authors became involved in anthropological field research. It then proceeds to describe the research itself, and the stories begin to connect as they become active collaborators. The scene shifts in the course of the narrative from China to America, and the relationship between the authors shifts from distant, wary, and somewhat hierarchical to close, egalitarian, and reciprocal.

The authors share their histories through personal stories, not technical analyses; their aim is to entertain while addressing the process of ethnography and the dynamics of international and intercultural communication.
Bamo Ayi is an anthropologist and scholar of comparative religion. She is deputy director of the Foreign Affairs Department, State Nationalities Commission, and professor of philosophy at Central Nationalities University, Beijing. Stevan Harrell is an anthropologist and translator. He is professor of anthropology at the University of Washington. Ma Lunzy is an ethnologist, historian, author, and curator. He is deputy director of Liangshan Minorities Research Institute.

"I used Fieldwork Connections in my Chinese Ethnographies course last quarter, and the students really liked it. Both the students and I thought that it gave them a much better idea of field research methods and issues than other ethnographies had done. They also liked the comparison of different researchers experiences with each other, in China, and in the US. It sparked some very productive seminar discussion about research methods and ethics. I strongly recommend it. ."
-Melissa J. Brown, Stanford University
Preface to the English Edition

Part One: Origins
1. Growing up Half Yi / Bamo Ayi
2. In the Shadow of the Han / Ma Lunzy
3. A White Guy Discovers Anthropology / Stevan Harrell

Part Two: China
4. Yinchang: My First Fieldwork, 1987-88 / Bamo Ayi
5. Getting Started in Southwest China, 1987-88 / Stevan Harrell
6. Chasing after Bimo, 1992-93 / Bamo Ayi
7. Getting Started Again, 1991 / Stevan Harrell
8. First Contact, 1991 / Ma Lunzy
9. Almost Real Fieldwork, 1993 / Stevan Harrell
10. In the Month of the Snake , 1993 / Ma Lunzy
11. Fieldwork with Muga, 1994 / Bamo Ayi
12. Getting Further Implicated, 1994 / Stevan Harrell
13. The Last Time I Led the Horse, 1994 / Ma Lunzy
14. The Bimo in the Modern World, 1994-95 / Bamo Ayi

Part Three: America
15. The First International Yi Conference, 1995 / Ma Lunzy
16. Seattle First Free Methodist Church, 1996-97 / Bamo Ayi
17. Collecting Mountain Patterns, 1999 / Ma Lunzy
18. Conceptualizing Mountain Patterns, 2000 / Bamo Qubumo
19. Celebrating Mountain Patterns, 2000 / Stevan Harrell

Epilogue: Fieldwork Connections and the Process of Ethnography / Stevan Harrell

Cast of Characters
Chinese and Nuosu Glossary

"This fascinating book is the result of multiparty fieldwork, unfolding over more than two decades. It is a valuable, inspired documentation of cross-cultural collaborative research that will prove especially engaging and informative to all of those who, working across disciplines, grapple with the thorny issue of representing the voices of indigenous peoples and minorities. Readers who are interested in ethnic relations in China will delight in how the book succeeds in situating the special problems faced in the authors' research in the context of contemporary global discussions. . . . It also offers one of the richest, most multifaceted accounts anywhere of Nuosu history, culture, and relations with others."
-Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 68, No. 3, August 2009

"This polyphonic approach gives useful insights into how joint fieldwork between foreign and Chinese scholars is arranged, carried out and perceived by the parties involved . . . . the book contributes to a demystification of the fieldwork experience while at the same time drawing attention to the many layers of interpretation and construction that determine the outcome of personal encounters in the field . . . . The real attraction of the book lies in its account of how a stimulating and mutually beneficial relationship between scholars from different countries and cultures is created through fieldwork."
-The China Journal

"This unusual and thought-provoking book .. would make a fine addition to graduate courses in field research methods. Its accessibility makes it ideal for upper-level undergraduate courses in anthropology, Asian Studies, folklore, and contemporary Chinese society and culture. Scholars in these disciplines, curators and anyone interested in the minority peoples of China will find this book useful and illuminating."
-Pacific Affairs

"Most importantly, the book exemplifies how a long-lasting collaboration begun from fieldwork connections is enhanced through conscientious and sincere efforts in reciprocity. . . . Fieldwork Connections gives us good stories of ethnographic processes of collaboration, and the marvelous accomplishment that perhaps could be achieved only through the particular chemistry among Harrell, Bamo, and Ma under the specific context of scholarly exchange at the turn of the century."
-Collaborative Anthropologies

"This is a charming book and a good read for China hands old and new. Highly recommended."

"This is a jargon-free, readable revelation of the quotidian details and myriad tasks behind gathering ethnographic data, as well as the questions ethnographers must regularly ask. . . . a remarkably interesting, accessible account of how ethnographers work."
-Publisher's Weekly