Theory and methods are two sides of the same coin. Both should be explicit and subject to external scrutiny. I come from a number of different anthropological traditions. My doctoral supervisor came from the intellectual lineage of Evans-Pritchard, the classic structural-functionalist. I have enormous respect for this tradition, and in many ways would classify myself as a 21st century structural-functionalist in my methodological approach to fieldwork. It’s been a while since I was a doctoral researcher, however, so for better or worse, I’ve picked up a few methodological influences over the past two decades. My principle field site, rural Punjab, is messy and defies simplistic explanations– the people there exhibit similar levels of pragmatic adjustment and accommodation as those that inspired the post WWII transition to the transactionalism of the likes of Victor Turner, Freddie Bailey and Fredrik Barth.
The theoretical interest in cultural models has imposed its own demands for innovative research methods. As a PhD student, the late Paul Stirling once asked me how I could be so arrogant as to imagine I could ever study ‘culture’. He said you can’t study what’s inside people’s heads– you can only study what they do and say and the institutions they establish to order their relationships. I’m not sure I have an answer to his question, even after a few decades of replaying that conversation in my head many times, but I have sought to adopt and develop transparent and replicable methods to generate some credible representations of what is going on in other people’s heads.
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