Timothy Austin published an article in the spring 2013 issue of Practicing Anthropology: “Serendipitous Informants: Getting Things Done in Philippine Fieldwork.”
Anthropology textbooks hearken budding ethnographers to go to the field, get the seat of their pants dirty, immerse themselves in the data, and to develop informants (Fetterman 2010; Hagan 2012; Murchison 2010; Pelto and Pelto 1970). All right, I know what is meant by going to the field and getting one’s pants dirty, but who are these informants, where do they come from, and what do they do? The use of diverse types of informants is essential to solving problems, research, or otherwise and is most important to applied anthropology. Yet, the literature is noticeably sparse in regards to what we explicitly mean by informants. Personal accounts and diaries of fieldworkers long after they have left the field provide candid discussions but without orderly reflections of the varied types of informants (see, e.g., Lowie 1959; Malinowski 1967; Wax 1971; Whyte 1994; cf. Lofland et al. 2006). What follows is a discussion of how I worked with a variety of informants, the need for which sometimes emerged rather surprisingly, to conduct research in a somewhat remote area of the province of Lanao del Norte on the northwest coast of the island of Mindanao in the Southern Philippines. Although this is a specific research setting, the findings arguably apply across the board to a variety of cultural areas and set forth what might be regarded as ideal type models of informants, though admittedly not an inclusive typology.
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Department of Criminology