For scholars conducting international research—archival, anthropological, data-driven, and all points in between—certain tools can be essential to the process. In this mini-series, SSRC staff caught up with eight current or former SSRC fellows to get a glimpse inside their research bags and to hear their best tips for conducting research. Here, 2014 Abe Fellowship recipient Kunio Nishikawa and 2017 International Dissertation Research Fellowship recipient Christopher Daley offer their points of view.

Kunio Nishikawa
Abe Fellow, 2016
Associate Professor of Agriculture, Ibaraki University

I have conducted field surveys in rural areas in Japan and the United States and reached one conclusion: “Simple is the best.” I have to be flexible when interviewing survey subjects, depending on the situation, and even moving from place to place, so I take a small bag and limit tools in it. The most crucial tool for my field surveys is the business card. I always exchange it with my counterparts at first to provide them with my contact information, and it’s a kind of ceremony in Japanese society. I believe that field surveys are not just surveys but interactions with people involved in industry, and they can connect me to the real world. Recently, I recognized the importance of preserving visual records and began to bring a digital camera. I can effectively use photos to record surveys to remind myself later and show someone my research results visually. I also need to drive a vehicle to go into remote rural areas where the public transportation is poor both in Japan and the US. Moreover, in California I need sunglasses to protect my eyes from strong sunlight.

The laptop is not very important for my surveys as I always keep records in my notebook. I think that writing in a notebook is better than on a laptop because I can listen to survey subjects while reconstructing research motives and obtaining information. However, now that I have my current job, I can no longer do without my laptop to check email from my office every day. The compatibility between research and office work is a never-ending challenge for Japanese researchers.

Christopher Daley
International Dissertation Research Fellow, 2017
PhD Candidate, Anthropology, Duke University

My project, “Playing the State: Cuban Baseball and Socialist Subjectivity in a Time of Change,’ examines the Cuban baseball academy to understand the lives of Cuban youth. Specifically, I focus on how the Cuban state seeks to shape young bodies by instilling socialist sentiments through training and competition to create what I call citizen-players. I explore how players navigate a range of expectations placed on them as baseball becomes an explicit site of negotiation between Cuba and the U.S. I will consider how the players’ experience in the academy generate possibilities within and beyond those envisioned by the state.

For everyday trips around town or while watching baseball training, I try to pack light, as I’m usually on the move for most of the day. I take an iPad and pencil for taking notes, reading books, and recording interviews, which helps to save space. My Sony mirrorless camera with telephoto lens and flexible tripod have been great for capturing images of the high-speed action during training and games, all without having to lug around a separate bag full of bulky camera equipment.  A waterproof notebook and lightweight raincoat to stay dry during the inevitable afternoon showers are essential. And of course, sunglasses and lots of water—I often carry a 1L Camelpak, a thermos for cold water, and a collapsible water pouch—which helps me endure the intense year-round tropical sun.

Baseball in Cuba

For morning and weekend training sessions, I often leave the rest of my gear behind and carry only the essentials. I carry a baseball cap and sunglass to protect my eyes, paired with a long-sleeve UPF 50 shirt to protect my skin from hours and hours of sun exposure. I also carry a collapsible water bottle—not very big, but it can be easily transported and stored— while running around during training. My fielder’s glove, still in the process of being broken in, comes in handy when I get my chance to toss the ball around. And finally, ibuprofen, for the tough days when I am reminded that I can no longer keep up with teenagers.

Fieldwork Tips

  • Speak to new people every day. Some of the best insights come from chance encounters with strangers.
  • Read the local newspaper(s). I have found that news and events pertinent to my interests often appear in the local newspaper but do not make the national newspapers or televised news broadcasts.
  • Find time to enjoy yourself. One’s time in the field can be stressful, but it can also be enjoyable. Making time for the things one enjoys away from “work” while in the “field” can be hard, especially when it feels like there is always something to do, and when everything feels like work. But taking time to read a book, watch a movie, or play a game of pickup can be reinvigorating and can help to break out of one’s normal fieldwork routine.
Want more fieldwork tips? Read the Next article in this series featuring azeez olaniyan and emma shaw crane.