The fact that anthropologists ‘construct’ the field in which they conduct their ethnographic research has long been recognised, but less considered are the ways in which the field can ‘construct’ both the anthropologist and fieldwork practices. In many ways, this process is a natural corollary of the fact that researchers must always adapt and sensitise themselves to the realities of their field locations, and more importantly, the inherently dialogical nature of ethnographic research. At the same time, this ‘construction’ can potentially have more singular ramifications, particularly when fieldwork is carried out in situations characterised by chronic violence. In such circumstances, the ethnographic process almost inevitably exposes the anthropologist to violence, but can also become intrinsically imbued with violence, to the extent that it can make sense to talk of the ‘violence’ of ethnography. This article illustrates this idea through a consideration of the author’s doctoral fieldwork experiences in Managua, Nicaragua, including his ritual initiation into an urban youth gang, and considers some of the ethical and practical ramifications of this experience.
Bulletin of Latin American Research (2007) 26 (4) 444-461 [doi: 10.1111/j.1470-9856.2007.00234.x]