Fieldwork is the stage of a research project where you go into the world to collect primary data from your research site and your research subjects using your chosen research methods.
Fieldwork is the data collection phase where you find the materials that you will analyse to answer you research questions. Conducting fieldwork is a way to explore, discover, and locate lines of inquiry related to the research question you are investigating.
(a) What is the field?
The field is your sphere of enquiry. It is where you will find the data you will analyse to answer your research question.
The nature and location of your ‘field’ will depend on your chosen research methodology and method. For example, when conducting ethnographic research in feminist urban studies you ‘field’ might be a particular city, a specific community within a city, two or more specific communities or localities in different cities around the world (in the case of transnational research), or it may be a locality in a city and a locality in a connected rural area.
In the case of a study of urban activism online, your ‘field’ may encompass physical localities in a city as well as online communities on the internet.
In contrast, in the case of a historical methodology using archival research methods your field might also encompass documentary archives as well as spaces within a city.
(b) When does fieldwork begin and end?
In some projects it is possible to designate a period of time to conduct your fieldwork. However, in practice the beginning and end of the fieldwork period can be blurry. The fieldwork timetable depends on a range of circumstances, including the nature of what you discover in the field, how quickly you are able to access your research subjects, and how long it takes to conduct your research.
In longitudinal projects, or projects conducted over an extended period of a number of years, there may several fieldwork stages which require you to collect data at an interval of a few months or a few years to investigate how things have changed over a period of time.