Social Anthropology
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2013 - STAR 1

Report from STAR week 1 - April 2013

This year, at the Braemar Youth Hostel, the Scottish Training in Anthropological Research (STAR) for pre-fieldwork PhD students took place. Students from the University of Aberdeen, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of St. Andrews came to work and learn together for five days to prepare to go into the field. Members of staff from each of these departments and Dr. Kit Davis (SOAS) were present to lead a series of talks, yet they went beyond these semi-formal and planned discussions to address concerns that were raised and more specified aspects of fieldwork. They shared with us their stories of the field, both good and bad, all leading to the conclusion that there is never nothing happening.

Over the course of the week we worked in groups towards student-led presentations and activities that took place on Thursday. These covered a wide range of topics including health and well-being in the field, nonhuman informants and their relations with humans, creativity in our approach to fieldwork as well as recording it and understanding impact and consciousness. These were entertaining and engaging and everyone seemed to take a lot away from the experience. The combination of so many different perspectives in each group allowed for great originality in their presentations and brought many useful issues and considerations to the surface. Discussion of these continued through the day and into the night, over meals, and through free time.

Throughout the week we were asked to practice recording methods as well as habits for a field note writing competition to be judged at the end. It’s difficult to manage the goings on of living and working in the field and that makes it all the more important for us to go in with strong observation and recording skills. The winning entries exhibited great detail, reflexivity, imagination, and attentiveness. Though there were a lot of great entries, the runners up were Alex Oehler (University of Aberdeen) and Karen Lane (University of St. Andrews) and the winner was Fallon Rice (University of Aberdeen).

Although we learned a great deal in such a short span, what seemed most significant is that we will never be able to plan for everything. All we can do is try; that and have a strong network of friends, family, and colleagues to turn to when needed. That is why this retreat was so important for us, not just the great experience and the good times and the workshops. It was all of those plus making ties that will last a lifetime. I found that those bonds had truly formed between all of us, though to different degrees. Thursday, as I listened to the similarities between the creativity group’s project explanation and my own group’s I was able to look across the room, share a silent look with another student and know that we both understood despite that before Monday, I knew nothing of him or his existence. Once again, I heard my supervisor’s voice telling the students from Aberdeen that there are lines connecting us and he was right, but now those lines have been extended.

by Fallon Rice