Points of departure: Insiders, outsiders, and social relations in caribbean field research

Peter R. Grahame, Kamini Maraj Grahame

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


In traditional ethnographies, it is customarily assumed that the field researcher is an outsider who seeks to acquire an insider's understanding of the social world being investigated. While conducting field research projects on education and tourism in Trinidad (West Indies) we found that the standard distinction between insider and outsider became problematic for us. Our experiences can be understood in terms of two competing conceptions of fieldwork. One, rooted in classical ethnography, views fieldwork as a process whereby the researcher learns to translate the cultural practices of a little-known or misunderstood group into terms understandable to the ethnographic audience. The other, growing out of the institutional ethnography approach pioneered by Dorothy E. Smith, views fieldwork as a process of mapping the relations that govern an institutional complex. In the latter approach, local experiences provide the point of departure for exploring a wider set of social arrangements. In this article, we treat our own fieldwork experiences as points of departure for a reflexive examination of this alternative ethnographic strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-312
Number of pages22
JournalHuman Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy


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