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A place that answers questions: primatological field sites and the making of authentic observations

Rees, A. (2006) A place that answers questions: primatological field sites and the making of authentic observations. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 37 (2). pp. 311-333. ISSN 0039-3681

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Abstract

The ideals and realities of field research have shaped the development of behavioural primatology over the latter half of the twentieth century. This paper draws on interviews with primatologists as well as a survey of the scientific literature to examine the idealized notion of the field site as a natural place and the physical environment of the field as a research space. It shows that what became standard field practice emerged in the course of wide ranging debate about the techniques, personal qualities and site conditions best suited to the scientific study of the natural behaviour of apes and monkeys. Although the laboratory was a constant presence in this debate, the export of techniques from the laboratory to the field was limited, due to concerns that experimental manipulation would destroy the naturalness of the behaviour. The paper goes on to demonstrate the central significance given by primatologists to the unique social, historical and ecological circumstances of particular field sites, and to sketch some of the complexities that fieldworkers contend with in trying to realize their ideals. Primatologists seek field sites that answer their questions; but once their studies become long term, they also need to find questions that answer to ever changing conditions at those sites.

Item Type: Article
Institution: The University of York
Academic Units: The University of York > Sociology (York)
Depositing User: York RAE Import
Date Deposited: 11 Feb 2009 11:58
Last Modified: 11 Feb 2009 11:58
Published Version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsc.2006.03.008
Status: Published
Publisher: Elsevier
Identification Number: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2006.03.008
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/7573

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