After the Field: reflections on doing ethnography
The development of tourism on the Cape Verde islands began in the last decade of the 20th century. The first island to be discovered and dedicated to mass tourism was Sal Island - until 2005 the only island with an international airport. Aeroflot built the first hotel just for the crew, but it was after 1990 that an Italian contractor began the building of some resorts. Now he is considered the 'king' of this island that is knew also as 'the island of the Italian'. In the first years of the 21st century, Boavista Island, nearest to Sal and with the same physical characteristics, followed the same fate of Sal Island with the opening of a new international airport in 2007, and the opening of some international resorts.
The contact, or better, the impact, of a form of tourism defined by the anthropologist as the "4 S tourism- Sun, sand, sea, sex tourism" (Smith 1989), lead to the emerge of dramatical changes in socio-cultural life and the emergence of problems that never existed previously in the archipelago.
The goal of my project is to study the relations between hosts and guests in four villages (aldeias) sited on four different islands, Sal, Boavista, Maio and Brava, that represent different phases of a "tourist area cycle of evolution" (Butler 1980). I will try to delineate the "strategies of resistance" (Barberani 2006) that Cape Verdean people put into action against the "tourism invasion". Doing research in a 'bathing context' is naturally less dangerous than in a war or guerrilla context or in other places where you are likely to encounter health-, transport-, language- or living problems. However, also in this Cape Verdean context the ethnographer has some problems with the so called 'entrance in the field'. From the point of view of the local population, in fact, the ethnographer is just another tourist associated with certain spaces, places, and often, prejudices. So the ethnographer is little more than a responsible tourist. Being Italian and white, like me, on these islands is a source of prejudice (in most of the cases with a real base). The Italians are seen more like exploiters than benefactors. The ethnographer must therefore emerge by distinguishing himself from the tourists, building day by day his authority.
To "enter into the field", it is important for the ethnographer to choose a gate-keeper (Garfinkel 1967). A gate-keeper is an individual who occupies a position that allows him or her to control access to goods, informations and services. During my fieldwork, the choice of a gatekeeper was problematic as it was hard to find a person recognized, respected and accepted by everybody in different communities. I was forced to choose people who could only partially fulfill this role and had to take into account their bias. The choice of a wrong gatekeeper can distort and endanger the whole research. The "art to make ethnography" is really not easy as Nigel Barley (1983), the "innocent anthropologist", tries to underline through his personal experience in Cameroon. Research is often a collection of misunderstandings, wasted time, delusions, and is thus far from the idea that emerges from classical anthropologists like Evans-Pritchard In his classical monograph 'The Nuer' (1940), the description of the 'human side' of fieldwork is confined to an introductory paragraph. The ethnographic experience, in fact, was not really interesting for academia; it was just the interesting 'fruit' of research. After the publication of the scandalous and controversial Diary of Malinowski (Malinowski 1967), emerges, for the first time, the other (human) side of the ethnographer during research. Indeed, Malinowski's wife published the diaries written by her husband during his fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands. The Diaries show a man forced to live in a place he did not like, fighting fear and prejudice.
In the last months of my stay in Cape Verde Islands, writing my 'fieldnotes from the sand', I had the chance to think about how to include the personal, 'human' experience in ethnographies. How important is it for students to know the difficulties that the researcher faces in the field? And what is the ideal way to express these difficulties? Dialogical anthropology has challenged the role of the ethnographer's authority. By placing the focus of the research on dialogue and the point of view of the informant, the informant's role becomes more central; the researcher risks of being only a mere transcriber of knowledge provided by the informant. The importance of dialogical anthropology was also to make visible the 'human side' of the ethnographer in his relation with the informant. The reality of fieldwork is often different from the narratives of the classical or postmodern anthropology where research is often portrayed as a peaceful and continuous dialogue between two people, a gateway to the discovery of a whole culture. It is important to make explicit the difficulties, the wasted time, the misunderstandings, as narrated with irony by Nigel Barley to those who choose to become ethnographers. Like every travel, ethnographic research is full of both intense moments and wasted times, and often it is during the 'wasted times' that most of useful research is done. Often, the researcher can collect more information while waiting for the departure of a ship or a bush taxi than during long interviews - even if it may not be mentioned in "the manual of the perfect ethnographer", in the monographs of Evans-Pritchard or in romanticized works of dialogical anthropology.
Barberani, S. (2006) Antropologia e turismo. Scambi e complicitÓ culturali nell'area mediterranea. Milano: Guerini
Barley, N. (1983) The innocent anthropologist. London: Penguin travel library ( trad. it. Il giovane antropologo. Roma: Socrates)
Butler, R. (1980) 'The concept of a tourist area cycle of evolution: implication for management of resources' in The Canadian Geographer, 24/1980, 1
Evans-Pritchard, E.E. (1940) The Nuer. A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People. London: Oxford University Press
Garfinkel, H. (1967) Studies in Ethnometodology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall
Malinowski, B. (1922) Argonauts of the Western Pacific. An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventures in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul
Malinowski, B. (1967) A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term. (trad. it. Giornale di un antropologo.Roma: Armando)
Smith, V. (1989) Hosts and guests: the anthropology of tourism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press
University: UniversitÓ 'La Sapienza' - Roma. Dep. AGEMUS
Interests: Anthropology of tourism, anthropology of violence, anthropology of space and places.
Fieldwork: Balkans ( 2002-.), Cabo Verde ( 2005-2010), Tuscany- Italy ( 2002-2006)