What Not to Do: Anti-Lessons for Ethnographic Fieldwork

RELS Colloquium/TRAP Faculty Working Group Ethnography Workshop
Sara Swenson, Dartmouth College
Mar 21, 2024 at - | Cohen 204

Sara Swenson

This special event will feature an ethnography of religion workshop during our normal colloquium time (3:30–5:00 PM), followed by a public lecture featuring Dr. Swenson's research. 

What Not to Do: Anti-Lessons for Ethnographic Fieldwork

Published ethnographies often highlight the positives of fieldwork. They feature tales of close friendships, mutual learning, personal growth, and transformative insights. They rarely venture into the ethically murky territory of when to end friendships, confront serious misunderstandings, or bypass advice from respected mentors.

This workshop focuses on techniques for maintaining a sense of safety and wellbeing through open communication during fieldwork. In part one, I’ll share five “anti-lessons” from some of my own experiences conducting ethnographic research with Buddhist charity groups in Vietnam. In part two, we’ll join together in group activities for discerning bad advice, perceiving risks, setting boundaries, and knowing when to say “yes” to unexpected opportunities. The goal of this workshop is to help ethnographic researchers of all experience levels develop further self-awareness for navigating difficult moments during fieldwork.

Sara A. Swenson is an Assistant Professor in Religion at Dartmouth College. She is currently a visiting fellow with Cornell University's Southeast Asia Program. Her research focuses on Buddhism and charity in contemporary Vietnam. Find her most recent publications in Asian Ethnology, Journal of Global Buddhism, Religion Compass, and the Journal of Vietnamese Studies.