Indonesia Inquiry

Conducting Fieldwork in Indonesia – Part I

July 18, 2011 Data Research Resources 0


Conducting fieldwork in Indonesia can have its ups and downs, joys and pains, triumphs and failures.  The following advice is mostly geared towards graduate students planning to go to the field or are already there, but others may still find selected portions useful depending on the context. Additional posts with advice are located under:

Conducting Fieldwork in Indonesia – Part II

Conducting Fieldwork in Indonesia – Part III


== Adaptation (Working from the Ideal Project to the Feasible Project) ==

* Be willing to adapt to new situations and challenges when it comes to data.  Data is often missing, incomplete, or never there to begin with.  If you find that you are not getting the data you need, try having your assistants or colleagues help you.

* There are times when your fieldwork experiences a lull or even comes to a dead halt.  This is okay.  Perhaps you have been working “too hard” or gone down a particular path as far as it will take you.  Try to take a step back and figure out what you can do to re-motivate yourself, find a new angle, finish a task, or find a different path to go down.


== Human Subjects and Informed Consent ==

* Articles:

— Shea, Christopher. (2000). “Don’t Talk to the Humans: The Crackdown on Social Science Research.” Lingua Franca 10, no. 6 (September): 26-34. Retrieved from

— Ethical and legal aspects of human subjects research on the Internet ~ 1999 workshop report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Retrieved from

— Maslach, Christina. (1996). “The Stanford Prison Experiment: Still Powerful After All These Years.” (August 12). Retrieved from

* American Anthropological Association Ethics Homepage: Here you will find links for various disciplines (just scroll down). There is also a general list of ethics resources provided by the last link, which includes international information. Retrieved from

(Note: some links may not work immediately such as the Political Science one, so type “ethics” in the search engine on that page and it will take you to the appropriate link.)

* Social Science Ethics: A Bibliography:


== Personal Safety ==

* Your fieldwork is an important part of your dissertation, but you should never do anything or go anywhere that would put you at  risk.

* If possible, let other people know where you are going and when to expect your return.

* Women should think about bringing along an assistant or friend in certain contexts.

* Know your exits and escape paths.

* Have a “Plan B.”

* Avoid walking alone late in the evening.


== Status Issues ==

* Having business cards is a useful “status symbol.”  If you have a Master’s degree, put “M.A.” after your name.  People will treat you differently, often better, if they know you already have a post-graduate degree.

* I have often heard Indonesians advise researchers to “Know your place.”  In other words, be polite, modest, humble, and deferential when you need to be.  Remember that certain status positions “trump” others (for better or worse).  For example, age often comes before education.  “Male” status is usually considered by others above “female” status.  A high-level position within an institution, business, organization, etc. may come before education or income.


== Transcriptions ==

* Finding a formal transcription service or professional transcriber in Indonesia can be very difficult.  You can hire undergraduate or graduate students from local universities to do the work, but be extremely clear from the start about what is expected and needed (e.g., if you need every word from a taped interview and not a summary, be sure to say/write that precisely).

* An alternative is to save your recordings until you can get to a location (e.g., your university town in the U.S., Australia, UK, etc.) where there are good transcription services. While this may be the more expensive route, it may save you lots of time and stress.  This of course depends on what language your recordings are in.