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Knowledge, Skill, and the Inculcation of the Anthropologist: Reflections on Learning to Sew in the Field



This article explores employment as a mode of participant observation, by analyzing the complex relationship between skill acquisition, embodiment, and anthropological analysis. It highlights the importance of thinking critically about the body, including the ethnographer's own body in the field. I describe working in a garment factory and learning to sew as part of my doctoral research on the garment industry in Trinidad, West Indies. I argue that disciplining the body into a particular craft is also a process of incorporating (or “taking into the body”) the ideologies of work that structure skill's meaning and practice. By describing my own difficulties “disembodying” what I learned in the field (in order to intellectualize the experience) I show how learning practical skills and enacting them everyday can be both a vigorous and perilous form of ethnographic research.