This science rests today on the notion of 'fieldwork', meaning that a researcher lives among a group of persons for a sufficient period to get a fixed role and personality for him/herself within the 'field'. Ethnographers specialise by repeating fieldwork in their groups of choice. All my groups of choice were international development assistance practitioners (most often employed in consulting companies, NGOs or bureaucracies). Therefore, I have automatically acquired 'fieldwork skills' effective in such contexts or fields.
In the literature, the 'development encounter' is the object of study. The actor-oriented school led by Norman Long (Long, 1992) is the now popular point of reference (esp. for rural contexts and his archetype figure Roberto) and I pursue these methods for industrial contexts. According to French 'contemporary anthropology' (Augé, 2006) any development encounter is defined and interpretable based on three elements clearly analysed:
the lifeworlds of the actors (participants, protagonists)
the effects of the researcher´s presence on the 'project' (dynamics)
the reaction of the institutions and actors to the ethnographic results
In development assistance, these three basis are even more fundamental than for other fields. A development project is like an ideological pressure cooker and an ethnographer is like a little hole (his/her presence during project interactions opens the hole) where some vapour escapes and the pressure becomes evident. The actor-orientation has redefined research work in many fields and nowhere is this more powerful than in development assistance.
The three basis also impose some prerequisites which I always clarify before starting to work. My behaviour during the fieldwork phase is not entirely predictable but these prerequisites help a potential client to decide whether the research is viable.
Augé M. 2006, The world of the anthropologist, Oxford: Berg.
Long A. and N. 1992, Battlefields of knowledge: the interlocking of theory and practice in social
research and development, London: Routledge.