June 30, 2010

Entradas y salidas

So I am back from a short trip to Baja California Sur (BCS) for summer "fieldwork," whatever that means. It's not a new idea by any means, but the whole concept of the field is one that I am not too clear about. When does the "field" actually begin? Does it begin when I board a plane along with a crowd of margarita seekers? Does it begin when I grab a taxi out of the airport at San Jose? When I leave my hotel? When I camp somewhere in between La Paz and San Jose del Cabo? Am I "in the field" all day long, even while I am eating 1.20 peso tacos at El Fogon in San Jose?

It all seems pretty arbitrary. What is and what is not the field seems to be a matter of editorial choice or academic convention. The field starts and stops on the edges of notebooks and computer keyboards.

Ethnographic descriptions of entries and exits into the mystical field are often laced with romance, adventure, and the details of the transformative powers of extended travel. My recent travels to BCS started and stopped at the bureaucratic portal known all around the world as LAX. I always complain about this particular airport, but I should be honest and admit that it was pretty much fantastic this time around. On my way into Mexico it took about 10 minutes to get through security, since there was NO LINE. On the way home I somehow managed to beat the crowds to immigration at LAX, and I was out on the sidewalk waiting for my ride about THREE MINUTES after the stated arrival time on my boarding pass. Que milagro! World records. So much for complaining about the difficulties of anthropological travel, right?

Well, at least I have the car rental issue. When I arrived in Los Cabos and got a ride to the car rental place, I received the wonderful news that my debit card would not work for renting a car. While it works as credit in the US, my card is for some reason unsuitable in an international setting. Car rentals work on credit, so I was out of luck. To be a part of this network of travel, commerce, and communication, credit is of utmost importance. For the ethnographer who will be studying issues that are intertwined with development and tourism, this is an important fact to keep in mind--especially when it comes to looking further into the people who exist on the socio-economic margins of these social systems. In order to be connected and play the game, a car is most definitely necessary.

Travel from one geographic place to another is just the beginning. Relocation is of course important, but arrival in a different place does not guarantee the ability to learn more about or study a particular social group or issue. The ability to be able to get access to the actual system itself--by whatever means necessary--is of utmost importance. This was something that I realized this summer. Not a grand revelation, but hey, it was something.

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