Emotions and the Transformative Potential of Fieldwork: Some Implications for Teaching and Learning Anthropology


  • Dimitrina Spencer




emotions, emotional reflexivity, reflexivity, transformative learning, experience, experiential learning, psychological defence, guilt, cynicism, feminism, extraordinary experience, fieldwork


In this article, I argue that the transformative learning potential of anthropology can be achieved only if emotions of anthropologists in the field are understood, articulated and added to the mainstream strengths of our qualitative method. This requires: turning our attention to emotions in research and learning; liberating emotions from the “extraordinary,” “apolitical” and “feminine”; understanding the emotional practices and regimes of our discipline and how they shape knowledge production; and, adding emotional reflexivity to the reflexive project of anthropology. I discuss some psychological defences evident in anthropological work that may be supported by academic practices, and several examples from published anthropological self-reflection, which look at the practical implications of emotions on methodology and analysis. I focus on accounts by two doctoral researchers to demonstrate the crucial importance of emotional reflexivity in knowledge-making and in teaching and learning anthropology, particularly fieldwork. I conclude by raising pedagogical questions and making some tentative practical suggestions for the teaching and learning of anthropological fieldwork.   

Author Biography

Dimitrina Spencer