Doing it Like a Boas: Anthropological Fieldwork in Jordan (Summer ‘17)

By: Caitlin Ostrowski

The “Lookout” in Amman

What does an archaeologist and this anthropologist have in common? For one, we surveyed during the first season, hoping to find something that or someone who will aid in our research. Then, we returned the next season, the next summer eager to gather our data—to locate those objects that or those people who will inevitably form the basis of our research. Be it objects or people, an archeologist and this anthropologist had to do some intense digging to find what they were looking for.

Over the last twelve days, I have been conducting interviews and doing participant observation in Amman, Jordan. Of course my fieldwork, though, started when I arrived on June 1st. On most days, I can be found fully engaging in Jordanian culture: walking to the markets downtown in 90 degrees to purchase fruits and vegetables while fasting in public, walking up and down 288 steps, and passing out upon arrival to my apartment in order prepare a meal with my roommate for iftar. On other days, I eat iftar with friends’ families in Irbid or Amman, enjoying authentic Jordanian and Palestinian dishes and the cultural experience of multiple rounds of post-iftar drinks and sweets. During nights, I go out with friends to shisha cafes and drive around Amman trying to find new places to eat Arabic desserts and drink fruit cocktails before 4 am.

Eating iftar at Hashem restaurant

On other days, I go to this local restaurant/café/soon to be pub, to do participant observation where I do some deep hanging out with informants for multiple hours who openly discuss their dating lives often speaking in both English and Arabic. As many of you know, my research is on same-sex desires and societal influences among same-sex desiring women in Amman. So far, I have done two interviews a day over the course of four days. Sometimes I plan for the interview and sometimes, out of nowhere, I get a text asking if we can meet up now. So I run to wherever we are meeting and we talk for a couple hours. During that time, the interview is conducted and I find out much needed and very interesting information. Because of the nature of my research, I can’t say too much, but I’ll just say that examining questions about how people conceptualize their sexual desires and how they navigate societal pressures with regards to their sexuality, has led to some quite publicly taboo discussions, which, of course, are the best!

Downtown market selling fruits, vegetables, spices, and more

Before I was able to start conducting interviews, I had some time to travel to Israel/Palestine for a few days to see some colleagues. We explored Jerusalem and then I had the opportunity to try some archaeology! I enjoyed my experience there very much (except the part where we had to wake up at 4 am to head to the field site).

Trying some archaeology in Israel

With one week left, I have about eight interviews now and I am hoping to talk to at least two more same-sex desiring women. After Eid, clubs will be open again and people will return to their pre and post Ramadan lives. Data collection will start again and continue for a few more days as people will be available after having spent a couple of days with their families.

I’ve discovered that fieldwork is somewhat draining, emotionally. After speaking with two women a day, I feel such a great responsibility to record absolutely everything they tell me immediately following our talk. With great fieldwork comes great responsibility. Fieldwork is difficult, especially this kind of fieldwork. I cannot simply walk up to a woman and ask if she is attracted to women, get to know her well enough to ask for an interview, and build enough trust for her to talk to me. I must find women to speak with by knowing people who know people whom I can speak with. With social fieldwork comes social anxiety. Just the other night I was going to introduce myself to an owner of a well-known “LGBT” café. After having a few wardrobe malfunctions in the café and having to run to the bathroom three times, I made my way upstairs to introduce myself and to discuss my research with the hopes of making a good impression for him to want to put me in contact with research subjects. The key to this type of fieldwork is to work smart, not hard, on making positive and appropriate connections.

To collect my data, I really have had to use the right tools to do some intense digging this summer.

At Jerash ruins of Jordan



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