The Anxieties of a Changing Sense of Place: A Reflection on Field Encounters at Home

  • Paul J. Kellner
Part of the Theory and History in the Human and Social Sciences book series (THHSS)


This chapter reflects on a first-time ethnographer’s experience during fieldwork through the lenses of emotion and affect. Elaborating on an already well-established sense of place can emotionally disruptive and engender affects that permeate one’s fieldwork. Specifically, I draw on Raymond Michalowski’s notion of the anxiety of surveillance during fieldwork to systematically consider how and why unanticipated anxieties about safety at home may have reshaped or impeded the interpretive process between my interlocutors and me. This consideration finds that a first-time ethnographer can benefit from additional preparations towards emotionally and affectively reflexive fieldwork practices. In making this finding, the chapter provides support for the growing literature that argues that emotions can broaden and deepen an ethnographer’s insight into his interlocutor’s lives. Finally, it will posit a few practical ways to prepare for and implement increasingly “relational and affectively-aware” ethnography, in order to help diversify the toolkit of other first-time ethnographers.


Sense of place Reflexivity Ethnography Indonesia Home 


  1. Aoki, J., & Yoshimizu, A. (2015). Walking histories, un/making places: Walking tours as ethnography of place. Space and Culture, 18(3), 273–284. Scholar
  2. Athanasiou, A., Hantzaroula, P., & Yannakopoulos, K. (2012). Towards a new epistemology: The ‘affective turn’. Historein, 8, 5–16. Scholar
  3. Barker, J. (1998). State of fear: Controlling the criminal contagion in Suharto’s new order. Indonesia, 66, 7–42. Retrieved from Scholar
  4. Beatty, A. (2010). How did it feel for you? Emotion, narrative, and the limits of ethnography. American Anthropologist, 112(3), 430–443. Scholar
  5. De Certeau, M. (1988). The practice of everyday life. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  6. Feld, S., & Basso, K. S. (1996). Senses of place. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.Google Scholar
  7. Gilbert, J. (2004). Signifying nothing: ‘Culture’, ‘discourse’ and the sociality of affect. Culture Machine, 6. Retrieved from
  8. Gupta, A., & Ferguson, J. (1997). Culture, power, place: Explorations in critical anthropology. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Keeler, W. (1983). Shame and stage fright in Java. Ethos, 11(3), 152–165. Scholar
  10. Kimmel, M. S., & Ferber, A. L. (Eds.). (2014). Privilege: A reader (3rd ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  11. Kusno, A. (2010). The appearances of memory: Mnemonic practices of architecture and urban form in Indonesia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Massumi, B. (1995). The autonomy of affect. Cultural Critique, 31, 83–109. Scholar
  13. McLean, A. (2007). When the borders of research and personal life become blurred: Thorny issues in conducting dementia research. In A. McLean & A. Leibing (Eds.), The shadow side of fieldwork. Exploring the blurred borders between ethnography and life (pp. 262–287). Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  14. Michalowski, R. (1996). Ethnography and anxiety: Field work and reflexivity in the vortex of U.S.-Cuban relations. Qualitative Sociology, 19(1), 59–82. Scholar
  15. Newberry, J. C. (2006). Back door Java: State formation and the domestic in working class Java. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Pelkmans, M. (2013, May). The affect effect. Anthropology of this Century, 7. Retrieved from
  17. Pemberton, J. (1994). On the subject of ‘Java. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Reddy, W. M. (2001). The navigation of feeling: A framework for the history of emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Stodulka, T. (2015). Emotion work, ethnography, and survival strategies on the streets of Yogyakarta. Medical Anthropology, 34(1), 84–97. Scholar
  20. Stodulka, T. (2017a). Coming of age on the streets of Java. Coping with marginality, stigma and illness. Bielefeld: Transcript.Google Scholar
  21. Stodulka, T. (2017b). ‘Storms of slander’ – Relational dimensions of ‘envy’ in Java, Indonesia. In R. Smith, M. Duffy, & U. Merlone (Eds.), Envy at work and in organizations (pp. 297–320). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Stodulka, T., Dinkelaker, S., & Thajib, F. (2019). Fieldwork, ethnography, and the empirical affect montage. In A. Kahl (Ed.), Analyzing affective societies (pp. 279–295). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Twine, F., & Gardener, B. (Eds.). (2013). Geographies of privilege. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul J. Kellner
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of International DevelopmentUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Department of Health Promotion and DevelopmentUniversity of BergenBergenNorway

Personalised recommendations