Documenting Maritime Folklife: An Introductory Guide
Part 2: How to Document
Ethics play a critical role in field research. Researchers must be truthful
about the purpose of their inquiries and should ensure that information
elicited from people does not cause them harm. Commitments given about
maintaining the anonymity of informants or the confidentiality of information
should always be honored. Researchers should be sensitive to the fact that
many issues can be divisive within a community and that revealing certain
kinds of information might result in a volatile situation. For example,
divulging information about a man's fishing territories or about the code
words he uses over the CB radio to let a kinsman know he has located a
school of fish could interfere with his ability to earn an income. Although
informants often reveal a great deal of private knowledge to the researcher,
the researcher should not assume that this information is for public dissemination.
Occasionally, the researcher will face the dilemma of choosing between
accurately communicating the information that he or she has collected and
the responsibility to the people from whom information has been acquired.
Since there are no general guidelines that will resolve this dilemma in
all cases, the researcher will have to rely on his or her sense of justice
1. For a detailed statement on professional ethics,
Anthropological Association, Professional Ethics: Statements and
Procedures of the American Anthropological Association (Washington:
American Anthropological Association, 1983).