Why am I here?
What is going on here?
Who are these people?
What am I doing here?
Who is here doing this?
So what’s the issue?
Why am I here?
A national foundation pays me (and a bunch of other anthropologists, archaeologists, ecologists and climatologists) to investigate how culture and ecology, and their intersections, have changed throughout the past several thousand years in this area.
I hang out and chat with the present-day residents of the village, learning and recording their thoughts and practices surrounding a wide-range of topics- health, the environment, heritage and education are some major ones.
I also run around and chat with kids because we are in the process of developing and teaching a curriculum based on the research findings in local schools. We learn a lot from them too.
The residents are well informed about the project and, generously, continue to invite us back. I hold regular meetings to explain my research goals and activities and emphasize that their participation in my activities and interviews is not required. I ask them what kinds of research are interesting to them and incorporate them into my plan to bring the most benefit to the community. I go where I’m invited and respect that consent to my intrusions is ongoing and voluntary.
These research decisions are guided by the ethical principles that are key to my field of study: respect for persons, beneficence and justice.
I’m also guided my own ethical research principles of humility, reciprocity, transparency and communication.
This village is unique in that it was the first in Belize to earn the rights from the government to continue to use its land traditionally, without the private or government land ownership. Their traditional ecological knowledge, therefore, has potential increased value in helping them make a living from their land.
Adding to their potential vulnerability, the village members are primarily subsistence farmers. This immediate and intimate connection to the land means that any fluctuations in land quality or ownership impacts them severely. This is why the land rights case and the traditional knowledge study are so important.
I interact with all members of the community including the leaders of various community groups, the women and the children. All are important to gaining a complete picture as part of the research.
I chat and observe and participate, as well as conducting more formal interviews and using more specific means of data collection- pile sorting for example. For the most part, people are keen to participate and I am always careful to express my gratitude for their time and knowledge.
Beneficence is very important to me. I try to ensure that the community members benefit from my research by asking them what’s important to them, humbly following their lead and providing reciprocity by sharing information about myself and helping out where I can.
I help out by holding classes for the local children, teaching them some research methodology and sharing the results of the research with them. This helps them value their traditional knowledge.