Understanding Cultures In Fieldwork On Prostitution In The Era Of Aids And Doing Fieldwork Among The Ya¸Nomamö

1372 words - 5 pages

Claire E. Sterk in her article, Fieldwork on Prostitution in the Era of AIDS, highlights the experiences of women engaged in a centuries-old profession in metropolitan Atlanta and New York City that is now plagued by the onslaught of a cureless disease. Whereas, in Doing Fieldwork among the Ya̧nomamö, Napoleon A. Chagnon immerses himself into the society of a Venezuelan tribe, which has a complex set of customs that he must understand first in order to document a comprehensive genealogy of the tribe. Through a critical study of both accounts, we can draw similarities in the anthropologists’ experiences, such as certain obstacles that kept them from effectively implementing research methodologies, as well as differences like the way in which they approached their subjects and involved themselves in their respective societal structures. Although both researchers had disparate goals to achieve and societies to examine, we can observe that the process they sustain has many parallels especially when they revisit their approaches to collecting information and entering the societies by building relationships with informants and subjects alike.
Sterk enters the field with the objective of studying and attempting to understand the lives of prostitutes on the streets of Atlanta and New York City. She tries to investigate the reasons why these women are in the profession, their interactions with their ‘pimps’ and customers, their attitudes towards safe sex in light of the AIDS endemic, and above all, prostitution’s link to drug use. Her basic thesis revolves around these women’s thoughts and feelings regarding prostitution and the effect it has on their lives. Through her research, Sterk uncovers a demographic that ranges from 18-59 years in age, is largely African-American, and that most have completed high school. As these women reveal more about themselves, it becomes apparent that there is a spectrum of opinion regarding controversial topics such as drug use and safe sex. Many women admitted to not having used a condom with a partner who they were aware had HIV/AIDS. Moreover, there is an array of cases regarding drug use: those who do not use drugs; those who became addicted after entering prostitution; those who resort to prostitution to support the habit; and those who are primarily addicts and exchange sexual favors for cocaine. The society is largely male-dominated, with pimps and fixers controlling the women and who they interact with; there are also numerous cases of violence perpetrated by pimps as well as customers. Another theme that is revealed is the dynamic of escaping prostitution and how these women find it difficult to transition into normal life and shed the social stigma that stems from their professional history.
Chagnon, on the other hand, is focused on engaging with the Ya̧nomamö in order to get a sense of their history, both reproductive and ancestral. In addition to collecting a comprehensive genealogy, he...

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