Fieldwork in Timor-Leste: Understanding Social Change through Practice.

AuthorLoney, Hannah
PositionBook review

Fieldwork in Timor-Leste: Understanding Social Change through Practice. Edited by Maj Nygaard-Christensen and Angie Bexley. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2017. Hardcover: 261pp.

Maj Nygaard-Christensen and Angie Bexley's edited collection, Fieldwork in Timor-Leste: Understanding Social Change through Practice, draws together contributions from a number of researchers engaged with processes of social, cultural and political change in Timor-Leste. The contributors each reflect upon personal experiences of conducting anthropological, historical and archival fieldwork in Timor-Leste, and position these reflections within the context of ethnographic praxis more broadly. In doing so, the volume seeks to challenge essentialist notions of what constitutes East Timorese national identity and how it has been produced, as well as to unpack the critical processes of "sense-making" in which researchers are engaged (p. 15). By examining the intricacies of social and political change in Timor-Leste, the experiences of individuals and communities within these processes, and the relationship between internal and external imaginaries that reinforce and contest concepts of nationhood, this volume provides a sensitive, contemplative and valuable contribution to the field of Timor-Leste studies.

The editors position the volume within the context of previous approaches to research on Timor-Leste, and present a solid overview of this literature. Notably, they observe the dominant paradigms and representative modes within each approach, for example: the prevalence of analyses of social organization within the context of cultural studies; the narratives of resistance and national identity that dominate histories of the Indonesian occupation; and the impact of foreign intervention on the contemporary nation of Timor-Leste. There is a strong sense of how various disciplinary approaches, research methods, notions of the political, and temporality can shape the possibilities for "writing" Timor-Leste.

The volume is organized into several thematic sections: Portuguese Timor; Fieldwork in a New Nation; Spatiality and Temporality; Post-Conflict Fieldwork; and Positionality--although these distinctions are not strictly observed, and the chapters engage with these themes to various degrees throughout. The first section provides personal accounts of conducting research on colonial Timor-Leste. David Hicks reflects upon his experience of conducting fieldwork in Viqueque during the...

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