Ethnographic encounters with elderly people and an interpreter. A fieldwork experience from Djenn Mali

  • G. Mommersteeg Department of Cultural Anthropology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands


In this paper, methodological issues of doing ethnographic fieldwork among elderly people are considered. Examples of fieldwork conducted in a small town in Mali are given, to draw attention to the importance of having a close research partner from the local culture. Illustrations taken from both conversations with elderly persons and discussions about them show how in the collaboration between the anthropologist and the research assistant, local images and notions of old age are revealed. The author argues that being dependent on an interpreter, which is commonly looked upon as a handicap, in research on old age proves to be an advantage.


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