George Gmelch: Lessons From the Field

The current review deals with Gmelch’s article Lessons from the field initially published in Annual Editions: Anthropology. To understand the purpose and significance of this article one should pay attention to Gmelch scholarly background and the main directions of his studies. There is no denying the importance of the fact that George Gmelch belongs to the ‘cast’ of cultural anthropologists which lies on the intersection of various sociological, historical and cultural disciplines researching multi-faceted spectrum of issues connected with human beings.

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Gmelch early research relates was conducted in Ireland and focused nomadic group which is known as Travellers and Tinkers. After that he had done extensive research into the problem of migration in Barbados, Newfoundland and Ireland, studied ecology of the salmon fisherman in Alaska, anthropology of the professional baseball player in the US and the issues of tourism in Napa Valley and Barbados. Gmelch is notable as the author of dozen of books and more articles.

As a cultural anthropologist pays specific attention to fieldwork and empirical examinations of different cultures including their customs and traditions. The utilization of these methods are central in his article named Lessons from the Field.

This article is made in the form of introduction of Anthropology students to fieldwork where they can receive their basic knowledge in ethnography, cultural science and other disciplines. There is no denying the importance of the fact that article includes basic recommendations and observations for the students which should be remembered starting active research in the field.

In the first place, Gmelch rightly suggests that anthropological knowledge is one the main components of modern humanitarian education without which it can be considered as full and effective. Gmelch continues that Anthropology students starting their field work presupposes that they already know basic anthropological theories, facts and rules which were acquired during their starting process. The knowledge of methodology, as Gmelch argues, is also very essential including such approaches as semiotic analysis of cultural artifacts, structural anthropology, cultural analysis, various quantitative and qualitative sociological methods. Without this kind of knowledge any field anthropological research may loose its focus and orientation.

One of the strengths of Gmelch article is extensive utilization of examples from his own experience.

For instance, he claims that when students start their anthropological fieldwork in some unknown cultural conditions, they become the reflection of students’ own cultural patterns and visions. As Gmelch notes cultural fieldworks in Anthropology often show sometimes egocentric and material prejudices and inclinations of the students which are so characteristic of American way of life. Many students experience real cultural shock when they meet the customs, way of life and tradition in their ethnographic fieldwork.

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In this respect, one of the most significant contribution which Gmelch makes to the problematic of developing practical guidelines for anthropological research is developing methodology for avoiding student’s cultural shock which in its turn may cause negative impact for their practice and experience.

Gmelch rightly suggests that much of responsibility should be taken by the leader of research ethnographic group who should explain students various issues ranging from theoretical concepts to practical knowledge and conduct necessary psychological and field trainings. Unless this is not done, there is a risk that a fieldwork practice will transform into inefficient activity having no influence on students scientific and life experience.

The abovementioned analyses Gmelch proposes constitute the main components of article significance and contribution to the debates in anthropology, particularly the methodic and didactic issues which are crucial for creating professional specialists in this fields.

Notwithstanding these positive moments, one should mention some significant shortcomings of the article. It seems that author’s main points are not outlined in coherent manner and more resemble an essay with personal observation than a guideline for students in fieldwork which it was meant to be. These problems, however, could have been avoided if the author managed to more properly structure his abundant insights and thought and present them in a coherent and logical way.

Besides this, Gmelch often seems to neglect some important issues while focusing on unimportant details which not always looks adequate.

Besides this, one should point to some unclear and ungrounded statements which can be met in this text. Among other weaknesses of the article one should point to the absence of statistical and empirical data which is was needed in accordance with the logical sequence of Gmelch’s ideas. Many of the problems mentioned above could have been avoided in the case if Gmelch managed to organize his findings, empirical data in a proper way meeting the purpose of his research.

Notwithstanding these significant shortcomings, it should be said that in general Gmelch’s article may be considered as important contribution into anthropological and educational studies and may prove helpful for all students interested in fieldwork in anthropology and ethnography. Gmelch major achievements in anthropology which are easily seen in his earlier research considerably outweigh negative sides of analyzed research.

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