Introducing Field Notes: Contact/Access

Welcome to Field Notes. Field Notes is part of the Fieldsights section of the new SCA website which will be organized by Grant Otsuki and Ali Kenner. We see it as an experiment in engaging the SCA community in a discussion on the themes and issues that occupy us as we try to make sense of what we see, hear, and experience as ethnographers, teachers, and public scholars.

Our goal is for Field Notes to become a public place for people to play and pass around ideas with their often distant colleagues. To this end, we’ve designed Field Notes with a clear structure, which we hope will be the basis for our writers and readers to collaborate in generating new ideas and approaches. We also want to give users of the new website a look into the thoughts of the creative and committed scholars who are part of SCA.

We offer themes to start off each round of discussions, words like ‘reflexivity’, ‘access’, or ‘responsibility’. We will choose themes that can be broad in their range but which manifest in very concrete and particular ways in our fieldwork. These are words that we give to each other for thinking through our material, but which often come to us and play out in radically different ways based on who we are, where we are, and the people and things that surround us.

For each round, we invite four scholars to each write one 600-800 word post on the theme, drawing from their own experiences as anthropologists and from the perspective of one motivating keyword given to them depending on their place in the round. The first writer will provide provocation, the second translation, the third deviation, and the fourth integration. The second writer will take up the reflections of the first writer, and continue the chain by posting their piece one week later in Fieldsights using their keyword, and so on. Each week, the following writer will take what has come before and interpret, twist, and mix it up as they wish.

We’re hoping to start what Donna Haraway called ‘a game of Cat’s Cradle’ among our four writers, and seeing what kinds of figures they come up with.

Cat’s Cradle is a game of relaying patterns, of one hand holding still to receive something from another, and then relaying by adding something new, by proposing another knot. Cat’s cradle can be played by many, on all sorts of limbs, as long as the rhythm of accepting and giving is sustained.

The aim of Field Notes is to facilitate this kind of game among anthropologists. We hope the short, lively, free-form exchanges that are produced here will become a resource for junior students getting into anthropology for the first time, senior students figuring out their own data, and for established scholars to see what their peers are excited about. Along the way, we urge you, the users of this site, to jump in and become part of the game. We’re encouraging our writers to address user comments in their writing as much as they draw from the writings of their partners in each round. To join the game, please create a user account. You won’t need one to comment, but having a user account will help you take advantage of the other exciting features on our new site. If you have any comments, suggestions for new themes, or if you are interested in participating as a writer in a future round, contact Grant Otsuki (


Our first theme is “contact/access.” Fittingly for our first round, we have asked our writers to explore how they arrive at all the ‘first times’ that pepper the training and fieldwork of an anthropologist. We may find stories about encountering new project ideas, field sites, or interlocutors, and the often hard process of making productive connections with informants and colleagues. Or, we may hear about tips and experiences to keep in mind when reaching out for the first time. What should I say or write? What do I need in my bag when I step off the plane or into a lab? ‘Access’ can also be about access to resources: what is available to us as researchers and students to help support our studies or careers? Here are the writers for our first round. See Peter Redfield's piecethe Week 2 piece by Nicola Bulled, and Rachel Ceasar's posting for Week 3. Chris Garces's "Integration" post is here.

Week 1: Provocation

Peter Redfield teaches anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of Life in Crisis: The Ethical Journey of Doctors Without Borders (University of California Press, 2013)

Week 2: Translation

Nicola Bulled is a recent graduate from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Connecticut. Her research focused on how the dissemination of biomedical HIV knowledge amidst prevention efforts impacts the practices, understandings, and identities of youth in Lesotho. She is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut, Tufts University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and a research affiliate at the Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention. Nicola’s work can be found at

Week 3: Deviation

Rachel Carmen Ceasar is a PhD candidate in the joint Medical Anthropology program at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco. Her dissertation research examines religion and technology, the anthropology of the dead body, and the politics of science in Spain and Morocco with a focus on the recent exhumations from the Spanish Civil War and dictatorship.

Week 4: Integration

Chris Garces is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Cornell University.  His ethnographic interests range from the study of politics and religion—or contemporary political theologies–, to the unchecked global development of penal state politics, and the history of Catholic humanitarian interventions in Latin America.

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Posts in This Series

Contact/Access: Integration

Contact/Access: Deviation

Contact/Access: Translation

Contact/Access: Provocation