The Ethnographer’s “Job” Makes a Little Boy Laugh

In 1999, while doing “fieldwork” in Arima, Trinidad.

I am taking a smoke break alone, and a four year old child from the Carib Community comes to keep me company.

He asks: “What work do you do?”

I answer him, kindly: “This is the work that I do.”

He asks again, now with a confused smile: “This is your job? Taking photo, filming, asking question?

You does get paid for this?”

I answer, I must admit with more irritation now: “Yes, I get paid, why not. This is work you know.”

He gets the last word: “Nah man! This ain’t work, this is no job, this is vacation, boy!” And he runs away laughing and laughing, with a big bandit grin on his already mischievous face.

I have to wonder now: what spirit sent him to tell me that? How could a small child hit the nail right on the head like that?

How could this be a “profession”? What kind of job, indeed, is this? The way we go to other societies, staring at people, poking at them, recording them, asking them questions that have little or no importance for them, trying to evade their questions about us, a glorified form of canine ass sniffing, or what another anthropologist brutally and reductively called (and perhaps this is taken out of context): “Other fucking”. Are we not ashamed? Where do we find the nerve to undertake this bizarre combination of leisure and espionage?

What kind of world do we think we are living in where we think we need to travel to other people’s homes, to scrutinize strangers? Who do we think we are in doing that?

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