A Half-Century of Field Research in Tzintzuntzan, Mexico: A Personal View
George M. Foster (University of California at Berkeley; Professor emeritus)
|(This article appears as Chapter 10 in Robert V. Kemper and Anya Peterson Royce (editors), Chronicling Cultures: Long-Term Field Research in Anthropology, pp. 252-283. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2002. ). All rights reserved.|
On January 5, 1945, as a Smithsonian Institution visiting professor at Mexico’s National School of Anthropology, and in the company of four students from the school, I arrived in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán, Mexico, charged with the responsibility of training the students in ethnographic field research methods. Thus began a study – now in its 57th year – that has become the longest intensive field research project in the history of the discipline. Except for the period 1947-1951, at least one anthropologist has gathered data in the village every year since 1945. In my own case, I have regularly visited the village since 1958, usually twice a year, with my most recent (and perhaps last) visit in July 2000.1
More than half a century of field research in Tzintzuntzan offers a distinctive perspective for considering methodological problems in social anthropology. In this chapter, I will focus on the importance of time depth for assessing changes in the community, on colleagues and myself as ethnologists, and on our relationships with the people we study. The nature of a community, the behavior of its people, and the processes of change can best be understood when a good historical record exists. On this score, Tzintzuntzan was a fortunate choice for a research enterprise that was to develop into an intensive longitudinal study, for its written historical record goes back nearly five centuries, while the archaeological record carries us back several centuries more. Today, Tzintzuntzan is a Spanish-speaking community of about 3,600 people, on the east shore of Lake Pátzcuaro, on a paved highway 230 miles west of Mexico City. The lake, justly famed for its beauty, lies at an elevation of 7,000 feet, surrounded by extinct volcanic peaks rising to 12,000 feet. When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico in 1519, Tzintzuntzan was the capital of the Tarascan Indian Empire2, the most powerful political group west of the Aztecs. Its pre-contact importance is still attested to by five circular pyramids (yácatas) standing on an immense artificial platform on the east side of the village. For a short time during the early colonial period, Tzintzuntzan seemed destined to become the seat of the bishopric for west central Mexico, but the church fathers soon thought better of this plan, first moving the seat ten miles south to Pátzcuaro and subsequently to Valladolid (modern Morelia), thirty miles eastward. In spite of this loss, a major Franciscan monastery functioned there for well over two centuries, and colonial church buildings continue to cast their distinctive stamp on the village.
From the mid-1530s Spaniards and their Mexican-born descendants – increasingly mixed with the indigenous peoples of the area – lived in the village; well into the nineteenth century church registers distinguish entries as Ciudadano (Spanish speaking, and of presumed Spanish descent) or Yndio (Indian, Tarascan speaking). Although Tarascan appears to have been the dominant language until the late nineteenth century, for more than one hundred years Spanish has been the principal language. Today, the 10% of the population that can speak Tarascan – a figure that has held fairly constant since 1945 – represents recent migrants from adjacent Indian villages. Few of the children of Tarascan speakers reported in the 1945 census today speak their parents’ language, and few of the children of subsequent Tarascan-speaking immigrants will, as adults, speak the language. All Tarascan speakers are equally fluent in Spanish.
Traditional Tzintzuntzan was a pottery-making, fishing, and trading village, in which farming was of secondary importance, best characterized as mestizo by race and peasant in cultural typology. Although still mestizo, it can no longer be described as peasant. Some of the changes that have removed it from the peasant typology are described in later pages.
THE FIRST VISIT
Although my wife, Mary, and I first passed through the village as tourists in early 1940, at a time when I was engaged in doctoral research among the Popoluca Indians in southern Veracruz State, the thought that I was being given a prescient glimpse of a large chunk of my professional career did not cross my mind. In the spring of 1944, Julian Steward, founder and director of the Smithsonian Institution’s new Institute of Social Anthropology, sent Donald Brand, a geographer, and me to Mexico City to teach at the National School of Anthropology. The formal agreement between the Smithsonian Institution and Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (the parent body of the School) specified that during half of each year we would meet classes and, during the other half, we would train students in field methods. It was further specified that the field training was to take place in the Tarascan area, thus carrying on “The Tarascan Project” (Rubín de la Borbolla and Beals 1940) initiated in 1939, and in 1944 still a high research priority in Mexican anthropology. Thus, I had no choice in selection of the research area; acceptance of the Smithsonian appointment committed me to work in Michoacán.
In June 1944, Brand and I visited the Tarascan area to pick a site to which to return with students. We visited Tzintzuntzan but did not seriously consider it, in spite of its historical importance, because clearly it was no longer Tarascan. Instead, we selected Ihuatzio, an extremely conservative Tarascan community three miles to the south. When we arrived, Brand and I, accompanied by six students, learned an important lesson. Although we were on an official Government mission, had cleared our research with the appropriate state and local authorities, had visited the village, and had secured a pledge of cooperation from the priest, we were greeted with a reserve that verged on hostility. After three days we found it prudent to leave. Eight strangers dropped into a conservative community were seen as a major threat, and no official authorizations or orders would induce people to accept us. Consequently, we split our group so that, on January 5, 1945, I found myself in Tzintzuntzan with Gabriel Ospina (a Colombian), Pablo Velásquez (a native Tarascan from the sierra to the west of the lake), Remy Bastien (a Haitian), and Chita de la Calle (a Mexican).3
Bastien and de la Calle returned to Mexico City in February, when the spring term of the Escuela began, while Ospina, Velásquez, and I lived and worked together in Tzintzuntzan for the first six months of 1945, Velásquez concentrating his attention on the adjacent Tarascan-speaking hamlet of Ichupio, leaving the village for Ospina and me. In June, Velásquez and I returned to Mexico City, he to continue with his classes and I to resume my teaching obligations. Ospina remained in Tzintzuntzan until March, 1946. During these additional eight months I returned for about a week each month. Later, he and I revisited the village on several occasions, the last in September, 1946, so that our observations spanned a twenty-month period. Ospina’s continuous presence in the village for fourteen months and his superb qualities as a fieldworker spelled the difference between average and exceptionally good baseline data.
Tzintzuntzan proved to be a much better choice than Ihuatzio would have been. As cabecera, or chief administrative town of the Municipio of Tzintzuntzan, the village is the site of the municipal archives and of most political activity as well. As the first Christian community in Michoacán, because of the long residence of Franciscan monks, and because of the continuous presence of priests since the Franciscans’ departure in November of 1766, Tzintzuntzan, in 1945, had a more complex religious and ceremonial life than Ihuatzio. Again, with a major home-based pottery industry, as well as farming, fishing, muleteering, and tule reed weaving, Tzintzuntzan had a much more varied economic base than the latter village, whose economy was based largely on agriculture and fishing. Finally, Tzintzuntzan conformed more nearly than Ihuatzio to the type of community that shortly thereafter anthropologists would come to call “peasant.” Consequently, my thinking about the nature of peasant society was stimulated well beyond what would have been the case had my theoretical orientation continued to be traditional, Tarascan Indian, and historical, as would certainly have proven true had we remained in Ihuatzio. The bulk of our findings on this initial project are found in Foster and Ospina (1948, 2000).
RETURN IN 1958
In 1946, I did not seriously contemplate maintaining research continuity in Tzintzuntzan. Long-term field research was not an option which occurred to most anthropologists at that time. Today, it is hard to realize that fifty years ago anthropologists still thought in terms of the urgency of completing the inventory of “primitive” and “folk” societies around the world. In that intellectual and disciplinary context, a restudy was viewed as a luxury hard to justify, a squandering of scarce resources.
In my case, a return to Washington, D.C. in 1946, succeeding Julian Steward as Director of the Institute of Social Anthropology; a year of field research in Spain 1949-1950; a move to Berkeley in 1953; and applied anthropological consulting activities in other parts of the world in 1952, 1955, and 1957; all turned my mind away from continuing research in Mexico. Then, during the summer of 1958, Mary and I made a leisurely trip through Mexico to identify a site not only for our own research, but one also suitable for field training of Berkeley doctoral candidates. By then, the possibilities of a restudy of a community where good base-line data had earlier been gathered had been made clear by Robert Redfield’s (1950) return to Chan Kom and Oscar Lewis’s (1951) restudy of Tepoztlán. Consequently, Tzintzuntzan was a top candidate among the possibilities we considered.
When we arrived in the village in July 1958, we found that in spite of a twelve-year absence we were remembered in positive terms. The obvious pleasure expressed by old friends, and the presence of Gabriel Ospina and other professional colleagues at UNESCO’s CREFAL (Fundamental Education Training Center for Latin America) at nearby Pátzcuaro quickly tipped the scale in favor of a return to Tzintzuntzan.
Although I returned to Tzintzuntzan in 1958 with Redfield’s restudy of Chan Kom and Lewis’s restudy of Tepoztlán as my models, I did not realize that I was embarking on a very different type of project, a longitudinal study with frequent repeat visits more comparable to Kluckhohn’s work among the Navajo (see Lamphere’s chapter in this volume). In the 1950s, the distinction between a restudy and a longitudinal, or long-term, study had not yet emerged. Methodologically, this distinction is important. A restudy, particularly if the time spent in the field is relatively brief, inevitably draws attention to change. This is true, for example, of the Chan Kom restudy, A Village that Chose Progress, which is based on a return visit of only 6 weeks. In contrast, longitudinal study affords opportunity both to study change and to delve more deeply into the culture itself.
The twelve-year gap between my early and later observations suggests that my Tzintzuntzan research resembles both a restudy and a longitudinal study. To a certain extent, this is true. Actually, however, the gap is much less than the dates suggest, for Gabriel Ospina had returned to Pátzcuaro in 1952 as one of the first staff members of the newly-established CREFAL. Because of his earlier residence in the village, his friendship with the people, and his knowledge of the local scene, Tzintzuntzan became a major community for CREFAL’s training programs and planned culture change projects. Rare was the week from late 1952 until his departure from CREFAL in 1960 that Ospina did not spend several days in Tzintzuntzan. From long discussions with him, from CREFAL censuses and other records (e.g., Ospina 1954) and from reports of shorter studies by other anthropologists (e.g., García Manzanedo 1955; Willner 1958). I obtained a very good picture of what had transpired during the second half of the period I was absent, leaving a span of less than six years with no firsthand information other than from villagers themselves.
Where will I live? This is the first question facing all of us when venturing into the field. During the initial study, the students and I lived first in the school building (during the long winter vacation) and then in a small house at the pyramids built as a museum, our cooking and cleaning needs taken care of by compadres and other close friends. In both places we were physically in the village, but slightly removed from the center of things. We were unable to look out into the street and see who passed by, who interacted with whom; and we were unable quietly to observe from within how a household functioned. In beginning our new work, Mary and I were anxious to live in a village home, to be able to observe life from inside a family, in a way that previously had not been possible.
Here it was that an old friend, Doña Micaela González, her second husband Melecio Hernández, and her grown daughters, Dolores and Virginia Pichu, rose to the occasion. With great apprehension, Micaela subsequently told us, but in response to Ospina’s assurance that we were really not difficult people, she agreed to accept us into her home, to put a glass window and a cement floor in a room for our use, to prepare our meals, to wash our clothing, and to answer our many questions.
The arrangement has proven immensely satisfying to all parties, and since 1959 we have lived with Doña Micaela on all of our visits. With each succeeding year, we found ourselves accumulating more and more field equipment, file boxes, local arts and crafts, and clothing, so that by 1970 we had outgrown our small room. Simultaneously Micaela – one of the first villagers to abandon traditional noncompetitive behavioral forms – had reached the point where she felt compelled to add a second story to her home to keep up with two or three neighbors doing the same thing. Here again our interests coincided: we designed and paid for a second story apartment which we furnished and where we kept sufficient field equipment and clothing so that we could arrive with no more than an airplane carry-on bag and still live at a level of comfort enjoyed by few field researchers. We have no equity in this property; when we no longer need it, it reverts to the family. Meanwhile, we have comfortable and attractive quarters, loving care from the family members while we are in residence, and superb informants within hailing distance.
The research advantages of living with a family, and of observing it in on a daily basis over many years, can scarcely be overemphasized. Serendipitously-overheard chance remarks, and chance events observed – “trigger mechanisms,” I call them – have been important sources of my theoretical ideas. My ideas about the perception and manipulation of social distance, and about cultural responses to expressions of envy (discussed later in this chapter) illustrate this point.
Occasionally, such events simply bring delight to the research experience and enrich the texture of the ethnographer’s data. For instance, one evening we were seated in the kitchen after our café con leche supper, reflecting on the day’s happenings. Melecio and Micaela were quietly talking to each other when I overheard him ask, “When did Christ walk on this earth?” Without a moment’s hesitation Micaela replied, “The Virgin of Guadalupe appeared on December 12, 1531. It was before then, perhaps 150 years earlier.” She turned to me: “Doctor,” she asked, “When did Christ walk on this earth?” In my best Socratic classroom manner I countered with, “What year is it now?” “Nineteen sixty-five,” she promptly replied, puzzled as to what my question had to do with when Christ walked on earth. “And what happened in year one?” I continued. She reflected a moment, and then replied, with perfect logic, “I suppose that’s when we began counting.” She and Melecio were both astonished to learn that Christ was born so long before the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and that his birth provided the baseline from which we count passage of the years. This little episode gave rise to no startling theoretical formulations, but it gave us a meaningful insight into Micaela’s and Melecio’s perception of time depth, as well as the relative importance to them of the birth of Christ vis-à-vis the appearance of Mexico’s patron saint.
Of course, there are many field situations where it is not feasible to live intimately with informants; where it is possible, there is no substitute for it. The rich data obtainable in this fashion simply cannot be duplicated in any other way.
CHANGE AND MODERNIZATION IN TZINTZUNTZAN
The ability to monitor in detail change and modernization in a community is certainly one of the chief justifications for long-term research. In the case of Tzintzuntzan the six comprehensive project censuses taken in 1945, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000, and the prices of representative staple goods recorded annually over a period of 56 years, provide unparalleled information on precisely how a typical peasant community has, in the post World War II years, ceased to conform to the classic peasant typology. The changes have been breathtaking. Had anyone in 1945 told me that what occurred during the following thirty years would in fact transpire, I would have laughed at such naïveté. Yet during this period, the community changed from a very “closed,” “uptight,” fearful, suspicious traditional community into an “open” community, very much a part of modern Mexico. The magnitude of changes during the first thirty years of research in Tzintzuntzan are described in some detail in Kemper and Foster (1975).
Since 1975, the changes have been even more dramatic. Increasing numbers of young people attend universities and technological institutes in Morelia and Mexico City, taking degrees in medicine, dentistry, nursing, law, engineering, computer science and the like, and more than 200 have become school teachers. Parents make great sacrifices to help their children obtain an education, a striking contrast to the 1940s when few were encouraged – or even permitted – to attend primary school. In 1942, the first graduating class in the new primary school numbered just six! Most of today’s well educated young people, of course, are lost to the local community, since they must seek jobs in larger centers, but many remit part of their earnings to help educate younger siblings, as well as to aid aging parents. Emigration likewise has become more marked, both to Mexican cities and to the United States (where Washington state has emerged as the current Mecca). The U.S. amnesty law of 1986, designed to impede illegal migration, has had little if any effect in slowing the traffic. To the contrary, whereas in earlier years most legal and illegal migrants were men, today entire families, children included, routinely make the move. Most emigrants, whether to other parts of Mexico or to the United States, significantly improve their standard of living. But within the village, too, the standard of living for a great many people has risen greatly (Table 1).
Table 1 Tzintzuntzan Material Possessions, 1945 - 2000 (Percent of Households)
Note: “One,” “two,” and “three” indicate number of items.
Significant additions to standards of living have taken place since the February 1990 census, but the impact of these changes often is at the whim of external forces. Consider these two tales. In 1993, the village manual telephone switchboard, which for many years had frozen the numbers of subscribers at 50, was replaced by a direct dialing system. Immediately the number of subscribers rose to 75 or more, and now there are nearly 130 telephones in Tzintzuntzan. Residents can make local and long distance calls with virtually the same facility one enjoys in the United States. As of June 1998, more than 100 homes had large parabolic (satellite dish) television antennas; eight years earlier there had been none. Up until 1999, satellite dish owners could access, without additional fees, all the Mexican TV signals carried on the nation’s Morelos II satellite. By the February 2000 census, the number of active satellite dishes in Tzintzuntzan had dropped to 68! What happened? Because of the privatization of telecommunications in Mexico, domestic access to satellite signals was no longer open and free, but required a decoder box and a monthly subscription fee. About a third of the local satellite dish owners responded by disconnecting their satellite systems (for which they had paid as much as $2,000 US) and reinstalled their rooftop antennas.
Comparing the picture of today with that of 1945, it is tempting to believe that Tzintzuntzan has become a consumer society. As the tale of telephones and satellite TV demonstrates, even relatively affluent villagers may not be willing to commit their limited resources to consumer goods and services. Other families – a decided minority, however – still live at a poverty level, bypassed by most of the good things in life that have come to their fellow villagers. Less and less can the traditional fiction be maintained that “Here we are all equal.” Although Tzintzuntzan in no sense is a class society, the gap between the well off and the poor is far greater than in 1945.
Standards of living in Tzintzuntzan have risen, and so have prices. During most of the post World War II period Mexico enjoyed remarkable monetary stability compared to much of the Third World. Then, toward the end of the 1970s, a severe economic crisis occurred that continued until the early 1990s. The peso was continually devalued, and in some years inflation surged past 100%. Then, with economic recovery apparently well under way, effective January 1, 1993, the last three zeros were lopped off Mexican currency, so that 1,000 pesos became one “new peso,” with an exchange rate of three pesos to one dollar. And, with the implementation in January 1994 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the future looked increasingly bright. Then, in December of that same year economic disaster struck Mexico. The peso was devalued 40% or more, capital fled the country, interest rates rose to more than 50% annually, and in spite of massive loans from the United States and European countries, social and economic pessimism grew significantly. The future is uncertain, but as I write in May 2001, Tzintzuntzeños continue to feel great economic pressure, and more and more they seek to solve their problems by emigrating to el norte. Table 2 shows the effect of inflation on Tzintzuntzan prices from 1945 to 2001.
Table 2 Prices of Staples in Tzintzuntzan, 1945-200l (in pesos)
note: in 1993, 1,000 pesos became 1 new peso.
nd = no data
In earlier statements (cf. Foster 1967), I have described Tzintzuntzan as a “peasant” community, using the term in the standard anthropological sense of a “part society” existing in a symbiotic relationship with urban centers, where the presence of the state is manifest in political domination of rural communities. Marginality has been noted as one of the primary characteristics of peasants, who are seen as psychologically isolated from a culturally distant and little understood world. In Tzintzuntzan, throughout its colonial history, and until about 1965, the gap between city and village in almost all aspects of life – occupation, education, clothing, access to health care, and to news – was very real. Today, this is no longer the case. By no stretch of the imagination can the villagers be described as “isolated” peasants. Table l above indicates how the standard of living has risen in recent decades.
Today, Tzintzuntzeños are best described as Mexicans who reside in a rural area which is itself an urban hinterland for the nearby city of Pátzcuaro, for the state capital Morelia, for the national capital Mexico City, and for diverse metropolitan areas in the United States. More and more, the residents of Tzintzuntzan are like their urban compatriots: their schooling is based on curricula set by the national government, they have access to the same kind of medical care (although in lesser degree, and often at greater cost), they drive the same motor vehicles, they watch the same television programs, they root for the same national sports teams, and they hold similar hopes for their children’s future. Some anthropologists have used the expression “post-peasant” to describe communities like Tzintzuntzan. The term is awkward, but I know of no better one. In any event, if we can extrapolate Tzintzuntzan’s transformation during the past generation to the rest of the world, the term “peasant” is about to join “feudal” as appropriate only to historical discussions.
What theoretical or other considerations have guided me in asking questions and gathering data? Why have I emphasized some areas, and perhaps neglected others? Formulation of hypotheses in my office, to be tested by data specifically gathered to test these hypotheses, has played a very minor role in guiding my work. This is not to say that I work without a sense of problem. When I returned in 1959, I assumed – with the “restudy” model in mind – that the principal justification for continued research was to exploit a detailed cultural baseline to measure subsequent developments to learn more about processes of change. Consequently, I spent much time identifying innovators and noting how – in education, travel experience, work, and the like – they differed from less innovative personalities. I have maintained this interest and, in addition to systematic updating of censuses, vital statistics, and similar data, I have taken pains to note the growing numbers of young people who leave the village to continue higher education, the numbers and destinations of emigrants, the widespread acceptance of television, of cars and trucks, gas stoves, and other signs of “modernization.” Emigration has, of course, become a major research topic in its own right (see Kemper, this volume).
But, as time passed, I realized that the original Tzintzuntzan research barely scratched the surface, and that in all areas of life there was still much to be learned. As a student of Kroeber and Lowie at the University of California (Berkeley), I was taught that all forms of behavior, all data, have meaning, and that they are relevant to interpretation and explanation, even if this relevance is not apparent at the time they are noted or recorded.
Consequently, I have been happy in Tzintzuntzan to continue with my earliest research habits of recording as many data as possible on everything that occurs to me. When I become aware of data “out there,” I want them, even if I have no plans for their immediate use, and even knowing that their real significance may never be revealed to me. I began recording dreams, for example, quite by accident. One day a neighbor told a complex and colorful dream he had had the night before, and it dawned on me that a collection of dreams would constitute a rich lode of information about many aspects of village life. It was not a topic that had previously interested me, and I felt deficient in the training in psychology necessary for the interpretation of dreams. Still, I felt that through content analysis I should be able to learn a good deal about personality, world view, and perhaps other things. So, without definite plans, I plunged into the task, asking friends to tell me their dreams. I simply assumed that I was a sufficiently good anthropologist to be able to draw something meaningful – to recognize basic patterns – from a sizable collection of dreams. The result was “Dreams, Character, and Cognitive Orientation in Tzintzuntzan” (Foster 1973). Recording of 22 TAT protocols came about in a similar, largely unplanned, fashion. Monograph-length treatment of these data remains to be done, almost certainly by someone else.
The amassing of data alone, no matter how detailed, does not in itself lead to important theoretical formulations. Something more is needed. In reflecting on the origins of my theoretical hunches, I am impressed by the way in which anomalies in my data have been thrown into relief by chance observations, leading me to formulate new interpretations. Thomas Kuhn’s paradigmatic model, which stresses the importance of anomaly in scientific breakthroughs, is relevant here. “Discovery,” he writes, “commences with the awareness of anomaly, i.e., with the recognition that nature has somehow violated the paradigm-induced expectations that govern normal science” (Kuhn 1962:52). In my case, this awareness has been triggered by serendipitous – i.e., lucky, unplanned – observations. Long ago, the sociologist Robert Merton recognized the “serendipity component” in qualitative research, a pattern that “involves the unanticipated, anomalous and strategic datum which exerts pressure upon the investigator for a new direction of inquiry which extends theory” (Merton 1948:506). “An unexpected and anomalous finding,” he continues, “elicited the investigator’s curiosity, and conducted him along an unpremeditated by-path which led to a fresh hypothesis” (1948:509). I will illustrate the role played by serendipitous observations in clarifying anomalous data in my research with several examples.
l) While doing doctoral research among the Popoluca Indians of southern Veracruz State in 1940-1941, I was intrigued to note that travelers – Indians and mestizos alike – when approaching each other on a jungle trail, would greet one another from a distance with adiós (“good-bye”) rather than with some form of “hello.” Subsequently, I learned that this is a common Mexican practice, not limited to any group or geographical area. Still, I puzzled over this anomalous (to me) linguistic form: why should “goodbye” be used as a greeting?
In Tzintzuntzan another linguistic anomaly puzzled me: why were friends, when separating, always careful to say “We will not say goodbye,” when a straight-forward “goodbye” seemed appropriate to me? A serendipitous observation provided the key to the puzzle. One evening I noted that Micaela, in kicking the dog out of the kitchen, addressed the animal with the respectful third person singular form. Since children and other “social inferiors” are addressed with the informal second person singular, tú, I was again faced with an anomaly: why such courtesy to a bothersome animal? This time something clicked: I recalled speakers addressing other adults whom they regarded as social inferiors with the respectful form Don (or Doña, depending on sex). Formal address, I recognized, can be used to maintain social distance. Earlier observations on verbal interaction, including adiós and “We will not say goodbye” quickly came to mind, and almost immediately it dawned on me that perceived and desired social relationships are expressed and manipulated through an elaborate system of verbal forms. The dog clearly was being reminded that it was not human, and was not to take liberties in the house. Adiós, I reasoned, is a way one conveys the message that “I see you, I respect you, I bear you no ill will, but I am busy and must be on my way; I have no time to talk.” In contrast, “We will not say goodbye” conveys just the opposite message. An unadorned “goodbye” sounds abrupt; it suggests that perhaps the speaker has no desire to continue the relationship. To emphasize that the parting is not really “goodbye” counters this danger. Within half an hour I assembled from my notes most of the illustrations found in “Speech Forms and the Perception of Social Distance” (Foster 1964a).
2) A serendipitous observation of what seemed to me to be anomalous behavior also “triggered” the line of thought that led to “Cultural Responses to Expressions of Envy in Tzintzuntzan” (Foster 1965b). Over the years I had recorded odd bits of behavior: the universal rejection of compliments, the remojo gift given to friends by someone who acquires something new of value, the concealment of pregnancy, the bolo (copper coins thrown by the godfather to village children immediately after the baptism of an infant), and the like. Then, on one occasion, fifty or more children came to Micaela’s house for a “school breakfast.” To my astonishment, they ate in absolute silence. “They’re taught to eat in silence,” was Micaela’s response to my question as to why. That children would eat noisily in a group was as astonishing to her as that they could eat quietly was to me. Something whispered to me “envy!,” and these and other behavioral forms quickly rose to a conscious level in my mind. I recalled how Micaela would become uneasy when, during mealtimes, we occasionally became animated in our discussion, raising our voices more than ordinarily. “Quiet!,” Micaela would plead. “They will know on the street that we are eating.” Once, daughter Lola was dispatched outdoors to check noise levels. Micaela breathed a sigh of relief when she returned with the report that our boisterousness could not be noted by passersby.
These forms of behavior quickly fell into what now seem like predestined places, and within an hour the paper was blocked out. Eating in silence, I realized, and many other seemingly unrelated forms of behavior, have one important thing in common: symbolically or in fact, they are devices useful in reducing the likelihood of envy from persons not fortunate enough to have sufficient food, a new possession of value, or a healthy new descendant.
3) “The Validating Role of Humoral Theory in Traditional Spanish-American Therapeutics” (Foster 1988b) is also the product of anomaly-cum-serendipity. In conventional accounts of humoral theory the “principle of opposites” model (a metaphorically Hot remedy for an illness believed to stem from cold, or to be cold, and a metaphorically Cold remedy for a hot illness) is viewed as prescriptive, as a guide to therapy. With this paradigm accepted by all anthropologists researching humoral medicine, the task was seen to be to determine the basis for classification of foods and remedies, and to explain away the inconsistencies that were commonplace. Eventually the paradigm came under such strain that it was, in Kuhn’s terms, “in crisis.” No longer was it possible to force all of the contradictory data into the prevailing prescription model.
Meanwhile, I was increasingly puzzled by two anomalies in my data. The first was the striking differential agreement and disagreement among informants about the humoral values of herbal and other remedies. For many common remedies informants were in unanimous or near-unanimous agreement, while for other equally common remedies they were in wide disagreement. The second, and related, anomaly was the extent to which common therapies failed to conform to the principle-of-opposites prescription. Often, I found, they did conform, but equally often they did not. Theory that explains only part of the time is of dubious value; it cries out for a new paradigm.
I hit upon the new paradigm one afternoon while walking the streets of Pátzcuaro, pondering the problem. By chance, I passed by the Farmacia Moderna, its name belied by the hundred or more 19th century porcelain pharmacy jars resting on wall shelves. Several years earlier I had recorded the labels of all jars, so I knew they represented a time when humoral remedies were establishment medicine. But this time the significance of these museum pieces dawned on me: when patients go to pharmacies, I mused, they complain of symptoms, asking the pharmacist for something to relieve these symptoms. They don’t say, “I’m suffering from a hot illness, please give me something Cold for it.” In other words, pharmacists (and curanderos as well) prescribe commonly-accepted remedies for well-known symptoms, without thought of humoral consistency. Knowing I had pushed the “principle of opposites” prescriptive paradigm to the breaking point, that the accumulated inconsistencies could no longer be accommodated by it, and thinking over my data, I recalled constant question-and-answer interchanges like the following: “What is the quality of salamander?” “Cold.” “How do you know?” “Because it is given to children suffering from ético (hectice fever).” In other words, a new paradigm – validation of empirical treatments – better accounts for the humorally-inconsistent data than the prescriptive paradigm, since the anomalies created by the latter simply disappear.
4) The model of Limited Good (Foster 1965a) represents a combination of a serendipitous “trigger” and a slowly growing awareness of how behavior conforms to a cognitive outlook. From the time of my first Tzintzuntzan work, I had speculated that the economic world view of the villagers, and perhaps that of peasants in general, was marked by what I called the “Image of the Static Economy.” The “economic pie,” I argued, quite realistically was seen as constant in size and unexpandable. Consequently, “If someone is seen to get ahead, logically it can only be at the expense of others in the village” (Foster 1960-1961:177; see also 1961b, 1964b). I saw the problem, however, only in economic terms. The integrating theme of “implicit premises,” central to the complete argument, developed in 1962 during a six-month community development assignment in Northern Rhodesia [now Zambia] (Foster 1987a). There I was struck by how different were Britishers’ assumptions about people, character, and culture from my own, and how different both of our assumptions were from those of people in Tzintzuntzan. I began thinking about the static economy in the wider context of implicit premises, but still I did not have the final key to Limited Good. This came – the idea was “triggered” – when I chanced to read an article by John Honigmann about a village in West Pakistan. Three sentences in a footnote caught my eye:
One dominant element in the character structure [of the villagers]. . . . is the implicit belief that good of all kinds is limited. There is only so much respect, influence, power, and love in the world. If another has some, then somebody is certainly deprived of that measure (Honigmann 1960:287).
This serendipitous reading of Honigmann caused all of the elements in the model (including such diverse things as treasure tales and the non-regenerative quality of blood) to fall into place. Limited Good thus owes its formulation to three major activities or events: the slow accumulation through field research and reading about peasant economic behavior; my exposure to a drastically different culture (British colonial society) that contributed an element critical to the model; and a “trigger,” a serendipitous event, the chance reading of the published observations of a colleague. The lessons I draw from this is that anthropologists, however strongly committed to a single community or people, should actively seek out other cross-cultural experiences as a source of pertinent ideas and that general, as well as specialized, reading is essential for the widest exposure to potential stimuli.
In other instances, I have been unable to identify the precise moment and manner in which new hypotheses or models first occurred to me beyond recognizing that masses of data slowly acquired made them possible. The “dyadic contract” articles (Foster 1961a, 1963) are illustrative. The ideas in the first paper developed in an unplanned fashion, as I was drawn into village reciprocity networks. Eventually, I realized that there was a significant pattern in exchange relationships. Only after writing the first paper did it occur to me that people interact with patrons, including supernatural beings, in essentially the same manner as with fellow villagers.
If, in 1945, I had realized that my commitment to Tzintzuntzan was to be life-long, would I have done things differently? Are there additional kinds of data, and other approaches to gathering data, that I would have sought or used? In hindsight, I feel fortunate that I emphasized data rather than theory in the initial study. My regrets have to do, not with hypotheses that I failed to develop or test, but with data I failed to gather. Theories come and go but good data are timeless, grist for the anthropologist’s mill when least expected. And, clearly, one of the advantages of repeated visits to a research site is that, as our data accumulate and we have time to ask questions about their meanings and their anomalies, we can write with confidence on theoretical matters, as I did in my second book on Tzintzuntzan (Foster 1967, and its two updates, 1979b, 1988a).
METHODOLOGICAL PROBLEMS: THE TIME FACTOR
In carrying out research in the same community for more than half a century, I have found that models that seemed appropriate at the time the data were gathered may require renewed scrutiny when, in later decades, conditions have changed. A second problem arising from the passage of time is that research tasks that initially seemed straightforward have become increasingly problematic. A third time-related problem is the question of anonymity.
The Limited Good model illustrates the first point. The model is accurate, I believe, for traditional Tzintzuntzan, perhaps to about 1965, although with a decreasingly good fit during the years immediately preceding that date. But changes in behavior, in attitudes, and above all in relations with the outside world – due particularly to radio and television, education, and emigration – have significantly modified the traditional Limited Good outlook and masked many of its manifestations that still survive. In other words, the kinds of evidence that led to my initial formulation of the model, while by no means gone, are much less obvious than they were two generations ago. It is possible that, had I begun my research in Tzintzuntzan in 1970, the idea of Limited Good would never have occurred to me. It would be entirely possible for young anthropologists to study Tzintzuntzan today, search for evidence of Limited Good and, on the basis of their findings, argue that the Limited Good hypothesis is inappropriate. To a degree they would be correct: for contemporary Tzintzuntzan, it explains behavior much less satisfactorily than for traditional Tzintzuntzan. But such an argument, because of its lack of time depth, in no way destroys the model. It merely confirms what we already know: world views can and do change. A model is a function of specified factors, and if these factors change with the passage of time, the fit of the model may become less and less good.
Census taking illustrates the second point: changed conditions create anomalies that complicate research techniques. Colleagues and I have taken six 100% censuses of the village, in 1945, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000. Although these censuses cover a great deal of personal information and data on standards of living, I am here concerned with the single question of population: who is to be counted? In 1945 and 1960, and to a great extent 1970, there was little problem. People either were at home, or they were away for a predictable period of time, and it was known that they would return, or that they had emigrated and were no longer considered to be residents. I have no difficulty in saying what the population was in 1945, 1960, and 1970.
By 1980, it was impossible to report population figures in these simplistic terms. More and more people with lifelong ties to the community were away for long periods, their ultimate return uncertain. How does one treat men who may spend nine months a year working in the United States, returning once a year to be at home with their wives and children? They remain taxpayers, voters, and recognized members of the community, yet their status is quite different from that of husbands who remain in the village the year around. Again, a large number of schoolteachers, born and raised in the village, have jobs 50 to 100 miles from Tzintzuntzan. Many of them have built homes in the village, to which they return, almost always for long vacations, often once a month, and sometimes for weekends. Should they be counted? A similar pattern holds for high school and university students studying in Morelia, an hour and a half away by bus. They move from boarding house to boarding house, or stay with relatives, but often return home on weekends, and they remain dependent on their parents for support. And, with substantially increased migration of Tzintzuntzeños to the United States, one can never be sure as to who will be present one day and gone the next, who should be counted as a permanent emigrant, and who is likely to return.
What all of these people have in common is that they are away from the village much more than they are in it, and their eventual relationship to the community is uncertain. In preparing for the 1980 census, we decided to deal with this residential anomaly by making two counts: a “core” population which, apart from short trips, normally resides in Tzintzuntzan, and an “extended” population of commuters and those who travel even great distances to work or study but always with the expectation of coming home. An important criterion in determining whether persons were counted as part of the “core” population or the “extended” population was the attitude of the affected individuals and their families toward their residential situation. This long-term trend, and the different attitudes Tzintzuntzeños have toward emigration, means that it is no longer possible to give a straightforward answer to the question, “What is the population of Tzintzuntzan?”
In this context, Table 3 presents our best estimate of the core population residing in Tzintzuntzan plus the extended population who felt that they should be included in the village count for census purposes. The great growth of Tzintzuntzeño migration to the U.S. in the 1990s created in its wake more than 200 “empty” or “abandoned” houses. Instead of leaving a spouse and some children at home as in previous decades, during the 1990s household heads often went to el norte with as many family members as they could arrange (and afford) to take along. Consequently, the number of persons counted in 2000 as “extended” dropped dramatically compared to 1990, when the move of many Tzintzuntzeños to the U.S. was more tentative. This long-term trend is visible only through regular monitoring over several decades (see Kemper, in this volume).
Table 3. Tzintzuntzan Population: 1945-2000
na = category “not applied” to the census data
The third problem – anonymity – reflects a changing norm in ethnographic writing. In my anthropological training, before World War II, I was taught to identify carefully informants by name and to tell something about them so that readers could evaluate their statements. Moreover, for North American Indian tribal research – the bulk of all research being carried out by United States anthropologists at that time – clear identification of places and people was an essential part of the record. Moreover, it was assumed that few if any informants would see, or be able to read, ethnographic accounts in which they appeared. During the intervening years anthropologists increasingly have studied literate groups, whose members increasingly are concerned to see what the field worker has written. Consequently, the use of pseudonyms for community and informant, both within the United States and abroad, has become standard practice, a basic precaution to protect the people concerned.
When I first wrote about Tzintzuntzan in the late 1940s, this had not yet become common practice, and it never occurred to me to conceal the true name of Tzintzuntzan, nor to use other than the real names of informants. By the time I realized the ethical implications of my policy, it was too late to turn back. Calling Tzintzuntzan “Tarasca” (copying Oscar Lewis, who renamed Tepoztlán “Azteca” in his later works) would have fooled no one. Also, the villagers would have been furious. They are delighted to see my publications about Tzintzuntzan, some of which have been translated into Spanish (e.g., Foster 1972; Foster and Ospina 2000), to see their photographs, and to see their names in print. They would feel cheated if I had to tell them, “It says ‘Informant B’; that’s really you.” Obviously I do not use real names in every case; for example, in discussing criminal matters I change names and disguise circumstances. But my students have told me the principal criticism of those few villagers who have browsed through my works is that I have not given them and their families sufficient exposure.
METHODOLOGICAL PROBLEMS: THE ETHNOLOGIST’S AGE
In “Encounters with Tikopia over Sixty Years,” Raymond Firth succinctly stated the essence of long-term social anthropological research: “Anthropology has changed, I have changed, and the Tikopia have changed” (Firth 1990:241). Anthropology, he noted, had become less descriptively ethnographic than in earlier times, but he also saw signs that the discipline might “return to the notion of seeking as objective and dispassionate accounts as is possible of social institutions of people” (1990:241).
Firth also spoke of his changing statuses over the years, from young bachelor to married man, father and grandfather, moving professionally from a junior position “to one of some seniority and then one of retirement and less responsibility” (1990:241). The bulk of Firth’s article, however, deals with sixty years of change for Tikopians, living both on and off the island. The magnitude of these changes, and the rapidity with which they came, was certainly impossible to predict when Firth began his research on this tiny, isolated island, but they are paralleled by the changes noted by all anthropologists engaged in long-term community-based field research. For “change,” in the broadest sense of the word – social, cultural, economic and political – is the common denominator in all longitudinal anthropological studies.
In the more than a half century I have known Tzintzuntzan, the village has changed dramatically, and the changes it has experienced have had important impacts on the research enterprise. I, also, have changed greatly, and these changes likewise have been reflected in the research I have carried out. I was 32 years old and only three years out of graduate school when I arrived in Tzintzuntzan. I was young, energetic, and gung-ho, like a puppy for whom all the world is an exciting new experience. My most recent – and perhaps last – visits to the village were at Christmas 1999 and in July 2000 when, at 86 years of age, and suffering from a debilitating neurological disease that severely limits my mobility, I felt anything but energetic and gung-ho. The village and its people, while still interesting, failed to excite me as in earlier years.
Little by little age takes its toll. Beginning about the time of my 80th birthday party in 1993 in the village, I recognized that I no longer had the physical stamina to be present at all of the events – fiestas, baptisms, burials, town meetings, and the like – that I routinely would have attended in an earlier period. It had become more difficult, too, to strike up the kinds of new friendships with younger people – the bulk of the Tzintzuntzan population – that result in rich field data. The “young” people with whom I have most contact are, I realize, better described as middle-aged. They are the children and grandchildren of close friends from my early years in the village, and I have kept in touch with them because these early associations have made it easy. My age mates, too – friends for half a century – are dropping off, so that the pool of informants to whom I can easily turn is diminishing. Even those who survive are less good informants than in earlier years; their minds wander, they forget, and they are no longer central to the life of the community.
Again, in my last years in the village I have had fewer fresh ideas and insights than formerly; the point of diminishing returns has been reached, and the “trigger” seems rusty. This is due to at least two factors. The first is, as just noted, decreasing stamina, a lack of energy and drive, a reduced compulsion to make sure I am seeing everything that is going on. And the second is familiarity with the community. I have already identified and written about some of the most striking aspects of life in the village, such as the dyadic contract, Limited Good, manipulation of social distance, envy, the validating role of humoral theory, and the like. Does that mean that there are now fewer new themes to be found? Are theoretical ideas to be garnered from a single community themselves a limited good, their progressive identification gradually reducing the remaining pool? I think not. Brandes and Kemper, certainly, have not lacked for research topics. And Peter Cahn’s recent doctoral research on Protestant conversions in the Tzintzuntzan region has opened a vast area crying out for attention (Cahn 2001). But I suspect that, for a single researcher, the passage of time diminishes the frequency of serendipitous observations that lead to fresh theoretical formulations.
Yet recent years have not been without great research satisfaction. During this time I have devoted much effort to recording health and illness beliefs and practices. Thirty years ago I thought I knew all there was to know on the subject. In reality I knew almost nothing. Since 1978, I have published one book (1994) and a series of papers that collectively provide the most detailed picture to date of humoral medicine in Latin America (1978, 1979a, 1981, 1982, 1984a, 1984b, 1985, 1987b, 1988b). The last two – on the origin of humoral medicine in the Americas, and on the validating (rather than the prescriptive) role of humoral theory in therapy – I consider to be among my theoretically most important papers. Old age is a time when one learns to count blessings, and I am grateful that I have been able to continue productive field research, even though at a reduced pace as compared to earlier years.
Advancing age presents still another problem for anthropologists who have amassed a sizable corpus of field notes: what provision should we make for these materials for the time when we are no longer around to take responsibility for their safekeeping and proper use? I am fortunate that Stanley Brandes and Robert Kemper, both of whom first went to the field with me in 1967 as students, continue a lively interest in studying and publishing on the villagers, both in and away from the community (e.g., Brandes 1968, 1979a, 1979b, 1981a, 1981b, 1983, 1984, 1988; in press; Kemper 1974, 1977, 1979a, 1979b, 1981, 1994a, 1994b, 1995, 1996a, 1996b). They expect to continue monitoring developments during their active careers. While all my field notes (as well as personal correspondence) will ultimately go to the University of California’s Bancroft Library, the Tzintzuntzan materials will do so only when Brandes and Kemper (and perhaps their students, such as Peter Cahn) feel they no longer have an active interest in them. Until that time, they will care for the data files, continuing to make them available to other scholars interested in Tzintzuntzan.
INTEGRATING STUDENTS AND COLLEAGUES INTO THE PROJECT
The raison d’être for beginning fieldwork in Michoacán was, of course, to train students, and those students who were with me in Tzintzuntzan during the winter and spring of 1945 all completed M.A. degrees (the highest then offered) at the National School of Anthropology. During the twenty-year period from 1959 until my retirement in 1979, a dozen Berkeley graduate students accompanied me to the field, some more than once. I placed most of them in nearby communities where we had easy access to each other, but where they were largely on their own. I favored this arrangement not only because I was apprehensive about cluttering up Tzintzuntzan with outsiders (I remembered how too many students had forced our departure from Ihuatzio fifteen years earlier), but also because students enjoy having a community to themselves. Consequently, only five spent significant amounts of time in the village, and, as matters turned out, only Kemper (1971) completed a doctoral dissertation involving Tzintzuntzan. Brandes’ pre-dissertation Tzintzuntzan experiences, he tells me, were very helpful in the Spanish research on which his dissertation was based. He continues to visit and do research in Tzintzuntzan and has published a critically-acclaimed book on ritual life in the village (Brandes 1988). Five more of the dozen students completed dissertations on other nearby communities, while a sixth did so on a Greek island.
My students and I never really worked on joint projects in the field, so we had no problem with integration of, or rights to, field data. The only joint publication is Kemper and Foster (1975) and that developed as an afterthought, when we found that our independently gathered data lent themselves to a specific problem. With all students I had a formal, written agreement that spelled out our mutual rights and expectations. All gave me copies of their field notes. If dealing with comparative topics where their data were pertinent, I had permission to cite their findings, with appropriate credit. The data, however, belonged to them, and could be used in any way they wished. Students, in turn, had full access to my files with comparable reciprocal rights. As matters worked out, we drew very little on each other’s materials. In more recent years, however, Brandes and Kemper (former students now become long-term colleagues) and I have freely made use of each other’s materials and expertise.
The principal “colleague” (apart from Kemper and Brandes, whose roles changed following completion of their doctoral studies) integrated into research in Tzintzuntzan has been my wife, Mary, who has been with me most of the time in Tzintzuntzan since 1958. We have lived the same life in Tzintzuntzan, attended the same fiestas, heard the same things, and observed the same behavior. She has noted points that have escaped me and has had access to situations from which I, as a male, have been excluded. The discussions we have had in the field, the speculations about the significance of this or that act or event, and her perceptions as a woman have played a major role in my research and writing. While her interests have been primarily linguistic – her doctoral dissertation, a grammar, was based on data obtained in the nearby Tarascan-speaking village of Ichupio (M. L. Foster 1969) – she has also published significant ethnographic papers on the village (e.g., M. L. Foster 1983, 1985, 1989).
I have wondered why ethnologists – markedly individualistic in their behavior – would want to undertake research in communities already apparently well-researched. The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that many specialized topics benefit from a pre-existing data base. In archaeological research, even the backdirt of previous excavations can sometimes yield important results with new research procedures. So, too, in ethnological fieldwork. Building on existing work, new researchers can make significant contributions in previously neglected cultural domains or can use new research methods to resolve old problems. For instance, Kemper’s dissertation (1971) focused on the adaptation of Tzintzuntzeños to life in Mexico City, while Cahn’s recent dissertation (2001) sheds new light on the convergence of Evangelical Protestants and traditional Catholics in Tzintzuntzan and its region. Brandes’ symbolic interpretation (1988) of ritual behavior and his forthcoming study of Alcoholics Anonymous (in press) likewise reveal the rich texture possible when new research begins with a solid database.
PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE VILLAGERS
There are moral and ethical questions surrounding the relationships between anthropologists and informants that must be addressed. Clearly, I have profited greatly from this relationship. In a considerable measure, my reputation as an anthropologist is due to the people of Tzintzuntzan. If the village had the equivalent of a United Crusade, it would be easy to assign royalties from books to it. But Tzintzuntzan has no mechanism whereby money can be given for the benefit of the community at large. I contribute substantially to such things as public lighting and school funds, and my name routinely is found on the list of contributors to any village function for which individual citizens make donations. Each year I leave with the village priest a substantial sum of money to be distributed at his discretion among the village needy. Altogether, my continuing contributions have far exceeded any monetary profit to me from publications. Some people obviously have benefited more than others; others, whom I feel have little real call on my resources, have also benefited.
In a wider sense, and for the village as a whole, I think our (Kemper, Brandes and Cahn included) major impact has been to give villagers a sense of esprit that otherwise would be lacking. Traditionally they have looked upon themselves as humble people, undervalued and ignored by their own more elevated countrymen. Prior to our arrival, no one had shown interest in their daily lives. The fact that we return year after year and are obviously delighted to be there has led to a feeling that Tzintzuntzan must be something special. After all, no other Michoacán village can boast several resident anthropologists. “Qué bueno que no nos olviden” is the standard greeting of villagers each time we return, “How nice that you don’t forget us.” And when we leave, it is always “¿Porqué se vayan tan pronto?” (“Why are you leaving so soon?”) The phrases are ritual, but I believe they express the feeling that the presence of el doctor, Mariquita, Roberto (Kemper), Tani (Brandes) and Pedro (Cahn) is tangible evidence that Tzintzuntzan is not an ordinary village.
IMPACT ON THE PEOPLE STUDIED
Mary’s and my impact (and that of students and colleagues) on Tzintzuntzan has been varied and significant. I believe no one is worse off for our presence, and I know that some are better off. A few, without our monetary intervention in medical crises, would almost certainly have died. Although we have hired local people to help in taking censuses, we have never directly paid informants for information. There have, however, been important material advantages for those people with whom we have worked most closely, and to whom we have felt most indebted. These material advantages have taken the form of gifts, educational support, and even help with medical care.
The members of Doña Micaela’s family are those to whom we have been most indebted, and in order to repay them in some small measure, we have brought them as tourists to the United States, in 1976, 1979, 1984, 1987, 1990, and 1993. On one or more of these trips they have visited my sister in Washington, D.C., my brother in San Diego, my son in Colorado, and the Kempers in Dallas. In turn, all of these people, and their families, have visited in Tzintzuntzan. The reactions of these visitors to what they see in the United States is always fascinating: so many American flags flying on government buildings, so few people walking in residential areas, home delivery milk bottles and newspapers lying untended on doorsteps, long distance calls so easily made from airport telephones, and the like. Daughter Virginia found our automatic garage door opener to be the most intriguing of all: “Es muy obediente,” she said, “It’s very obedient,” just as if it were a dog obeying its master’s command.
Just as living with the members of this family in Tzintzuntzan has provided rich insights into how villagers view the world and cope with life, so does having them as guests in our home add to our understanding of how their world, for all its similarities, differs from ours. With English-speaking guests one assumes that both they and hosts will welcome an occasional quiet hour, to read the morning newspaper or to continue with an interesting book. This is not the case, we learned, with all “literate” people. One morning Mary and I awakened about six-thirty to find, to our astonishment, that Micaela and her daughters were busy weeding the garden. An important truth dawned on us: to be literate, in the strict sense of the word of being able to read and comprehend legal and commercial documents, and to write simple letters, is quite distinct from using literacy for pleasurable activities. Action, in the form of gardening, and not reading for pleasure, seemed to them to be the appropriate early morning activity. Micaela and her daughters are fully literate in the narrow sense of the word, but apart from a fleeting glance at a newspaper it never occurs to them to read for the sheer joy of reading, or to fill an idle hour. Light reading is not found on their bedside tables nor is it packed in their travel luggage.
It is gratifying to make life a bit easier and more interesting – as I think we have done – for small numbers of friends. But there are also negative aspects to a policy of substantial help given to relatively few people. This help has affected relationships for the worse between some of the families that have benefited most from our presence, and other families that likewise would have appreciated medical, educational, and other forms of aid. We are, after all, a limited good and our largesse, although considerable, is not inexhaustible. Just as village families traditionally see themselves in competition for scarce “good” of all kinds, so do those who benefit, or aspire to benefit, from us see themselves as competing for our favors. The resulting envy and jealousy are fairly well suppressed during our stays, but in at least a few instances they have resulted in strained relationships among village families.
Micaela and her family are probably the most envied people in the village. Their remarkable economic progress since we came to live with them is seen by fellow villagers as due almost entirely to our help, a perception wide of the mark. Nonetheless, it can be argued that, had we not come to roost with Micaela, she and the other members of her family would have more intimate ties with villagers than is now the case. It can also be argued that there would be little difference, for other families that have made major economic progress during the same period also find themselves increasingly distant from those who have progressed less.
In summary, I turn to the question of why long-term research? What can anthropology learn from it that goes beyond the results of intensive studies of a year or two? Should all anthropologists be encouraged to continue to monitor their field sites, or are the advantages of this type of research outweighed by the costs? The answer, obviously, depends on the interests and temperament of the individual anthropologist – as well as, perhaps, the attractiveness of the people and the natural environment. Scudder and Colson, for example, point out that although the Middle Zambezi Valley is beautiful, Gwembe settlements along the line of rail “are not places we would choose to vacation” (Scudder and Colson 1979:251). In contrast, Lake Pátzcuaro does not suffer by comparison to the Vale of Kashmir.
Insofar as the contributions to anthropology are concerned, I find two basic reasons to encourage long-term research. The first is the quantity and quality of the basic data that can be obtained, and the second is the dynamic view obtained of communities impacted by national and world trends and events. In addition to these scientific justifications there is the personal satisfaction and emotional fulfillment that comes from the relationships formed with people in an exotic society who start out as informants and gradually are transformed into close personal friends.
As to quantity and quality of data, it should be apparent that there is a direct correlation between time spent in the field and the information gathered. In theory, three or four years of research either in one block, or spread over twenty years, should produce comparable amounts of data. I doubt that this is true. After some months of steady research intellectual fatigue sets in; the researcher must get away to recharge the mind’s batteries. In my case, I have found that, after my initial 1945-1946 session, relatively short repeat visits to the field – from one to four months – made possible highly efficient use of time. I would arrive in the field, charged up with questions and ideas that I had formulated and mulled over since my preceding trip, with the energy to work intensively until time to return home.
As pointed out above, theoretical insights do not come to me in one massive package; they develop slowly, over time, often triggered by serendipitous observations, as I turn from one theme to another. The pattern of relatively unhurried repeat visits that has characterized my Tzintzuntzan research has vastly widened the spectrum of serendipitous behavioral situations to which I have been exposed; consequently I have written about a much wider variety of topics than would have been possible had I limited myself to one, or a few widely separated, visits. Examples of the varied topics I have dealt with may be encountered in Foster 1960, 1966a, 1966b, 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1989, as well as Maccoby and Foster 1970.
My data are “thick.” The patient accumulation of masses of data, the lack of a sense of urgency, the luxury of being able to hold off on a “hot” idea, secure in the knowledge that another field season will permit gathering of additional critical data – all have been advantageous to me. Moreover, repeat visits make it possible to correct errors, which are more common in all anthropological reports than we like to believe. One of my most blatant early errors was to describe the Hot-Cold syndrome in Tzintzuntzan as Mexican Indian in origin (Foster and Ospina 1948:51). But after discovering Hippocratic-Galenic humoral medicine, and realizing that I was dealing with a paradigm (in Kuhn’s terms) at least 2,500 years old, I was able on return visits to gather data to provide readers with an accurate and comprehensive account of this popular medical system and to place it in historical context (Foster 1994).
With respect to the second of the two major justifications for long-term research – the dynamic view obtained of a society or community – two themes are apparent. The first is that simply observing the magnitude of change over the period a community has been under observation reminds the researcher of the inevitably static bias of even the best classic studies, studies that portray a slice in time of a year, or two, or three.
The second theme has to do with prediction. The observation of the behavior of the members of a community over a number of years ought to provide the insights and hypotheses necessary to predict with a fair degree of accuracy future changes. This is a hope as yet largely unrealized. Perhaps with a growing number of long-term studies in hand, anthropologists will do better in the future, but certainly our record to date is not impressive. In my case, after my 1945-1946 research in Tzintzuntzan I made only a few modest predictions. In the 1940s, process was still a topic little understood by ethnographers; I was more concerned to reconstruct the past and record the present than to tinker with the future.
In retrospect, I am relieved that I paid little attention to the future, for my major predictions turned out to be largely wrong. In 1948, I estimated that an annual family income of U.S. $400 - $500 at 1945 price levels should “provide a reasonable standard of living in terms of local and national levels” (Foster and Ospina 1948:289). Few families enjoyed such income at the time, and I felt that existing techniques of production made such a goal for a majority of families extremely unlikely. I pointed out that, although increased efficiency in farming and pottery-making and distribution were possible, the cost in labor redundancy would be high. Growing demand for labor in cities, I felt, might for a time draw off surplus rural population – as it has, in fact, done. But, in spite of the war-time bracero program whereby Mexican men came to the United States under contract for specific periods of time, I completely failed to foresee the role legal and illegal migration ultimately would play in providing work opportunities.
To compound my failure as a prophet, in 1967 I continued to emphasize “the fundamental factors which hold back the village” (Foster 1967:350) rather than the factors favoring progress. With respect to migration to the United States, I wrote that the 1964 termination of the bracero program surely would have deleterious effect on the community:
The end of the bracero program is almost certain to cause a major economic (and perhaps social) crisis in Tzintzuntzan, and in the thousands of similar Mexican villages which, over a twenty-year period, have grown accustomed to this outside source of aid. Standards of living will fall, people will eat less well, new clothing will appear more rarely, and home necessities and luxuries will become scarce (Foster 1967:287-288).
All this on the eve of Tzintzuntzan’s most dramatic rise in standards of living!
My most accurate prediction had to do with health care seeking. In 1948 I believed that curanderos already were on their way out and that modern biomedicine would be adopted increasingly by Tzintzuntzeños. On this point I was correct; for many years, people have preferred to consult medical doctors for illnesses deemed to be in any way serious. Traditional curers, while still present in small numbers, play a decidedly secondary role in meeting the health needs of most people.
What conclusions about prediction can be drawn from more than fifty years of contact with Tzintzuntzan? The most important, I believe, is that change in a twentieth-century village is intimately tied to the political, economic, and social events that occur in the country of which it is a part. When the country prospers, the developing infrastructure provides support for local progress. A high degree of Tzintzuntzan’s relative well-being today has depended on state and national programs: a hard-surfaced road, electricity, potable water, a sewer system, primary and secondary schools and their teachers, a health center, and much more. The accident of geographical proximity to the United States also makes Mexico a special case in development. Recognizing the negative as well as positive aspects of this fact, there is no doubt that legal (and illegal) employment in the United States has acted as a social and economic safety valve, relieving the pressure of a burgeoning population, and raising standards of living from remittances sent back from el norte.
Obviously, ethnologists must know a great deal more than the local picture to comprehend changes that occur in communities under their observation. What is not obvious from the macro-perspective is the behavior of individuals which, en masse, add up to change. The reason for the shift from curanderos to physicians, for example, becomes clear only when informants tell us that they find more satisfactory results when they consult the latter. And the patient accumulation of case studies gives insight as to why some people chose to emigrate, tentatively or permanently, and why others do not.
In the first version of this paper, I commented on the personal satisfaction and sense of fulfillment that resulted from a long-term commitment to Tzintzuntzan and its people (Foster 1979:182-183). This sense of familiarity (literally, feeling part of a family) has only grown over the passing years. Not only did the extended Foster family come to Tzintzuntzan to celebrate my 80th birthday in 1993, we also gathered on January 5, 1995, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of my arrival in the community. Then, on June 28, 2000, we assembled once again, this time to celebrate the long-awaited translation into Spanish of Empire’s Children: The People of Tzintzuntzan (Foster and Ospina 1948). At an academic ceremony held at the Colegio de Michoacán in Zamora, a two-hour drive from Tzintzuntzan, the biggest round of applause came for Doña Micaela González, the 94-year-old matriarch of our Tzintzuntzan family.
The next day, many long-time Tzintzuntzan friends came to her home for a second celebration. We ate the traditional fiesta fare of pork carnitas, rice, and beans; drank our beers and soft drinks; and danced to the music of Pedro Dimas. We told stories about the people (many long deceased) staring out at us from the black-and-white photographs that grace the pages of the handsome new edition of Los Hijos del Imperio (Foster and Ospina 2000), and recalled the good times and difficult days shared throughout more than half a century.
Little did we suspect that, the very day we returned home to Berkeley, Micaela would die (of heart failure) in a Morelia hospital. For me, the coincidence of the book publication and Micaela’s death marks the end of a long and very special era. With the ethnological mantle passed to Kemper, Brandes, and Cahn, research in Tzintzuntzan surely will go on for decades to come, but for all those who ever knew Doña Mica it can never be quite the same.
1. In the first edition of this volume, under the title “Fieldwork in Tzintzuntzan: the First Thirty Years” (1979c), I related my experiences up to 1975.
2. Were I beginning my writing on Tzintzuntzan today, I would use the word Purépecha rather than Tarascan, for that is the term the indigenous population of Michoacán uses to identify itself. This is also the official designation employed by Mexican government agencies. However, since the term Tarascan is much better known among historians, anthropologists, and the public at large, it seems appropriate to continue its use here.
3. Brand settled in Quiroga with José Corona Núñez, who became a distinguished Mexican specialist on Tarascan culture and history, while the sixth student, Angélica Castro (also Mexican) elected to work in a small settlement across the northeast arm of the lake opposite Tzintzuntzan.
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