In Search for Unknown Unknowns – Why Fieldwork is Still the Way! Keynote lecture

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According to “The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity” “research
is the quest for knowledge obtained through systematic study, thinking, observation, and experimentation” while fieldwork can be defined as any kind of research activity that is done outside the laboratory. Still, in this speech I want to discuss the idea that the (perhaps—the only) way to discover the world in the proper sense of the word is through fieldwork, that is—working directly with the world as it is. In the title of this presentation, I refer to a famous distinction between the “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” made by US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld back in 2002. Researchers often work in the field of “known unknowns”, that is they know that they do not know something and are looking for answers. However, the true discovery (or— intellectually the most rewarding one) lies in the fields that we even do not know exist. Or at least so it has been in my experience—the premeditated research questions have often not led to answers that I liked. Instead, while looking for these answers, other problems, questions, and answers popped up and lead the train of thought in
a different, more rewarding direction; this was enabled by the fieldwork information and experience. To illustrate this idea, I will refer to my fieldwork in a small village in Montenegro and a research project in Latvia. In the first case, I initially wanted to explore informal forms of governance, but discovered the importance of fantoms in the way we understand and enact the state. In the other case, our research team was looking for information flows explaining why elderly people were hesitant to vaccinate against Covid-19 but discovered that the most likely reason was that they were cut out from the system of medical care already before the pandemic struck and that information as such was of little importance.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023
EventBeyond the Field: Fieldwork in the 21st Century: The 12th International Conference of Young Folklorists - Natonal Library of Latvia, Riga, Latvia
Duration: 13 Sept 202315 Sept 2023
Conference number: 12


ConferenceBeyond the Field: Fieldwork in the 21st Century


  • Fieldwork
  • Ethnography
  • anthropology
  • Folkloristics
  • Montenegro
  • Latvia

Field of Science*

  • 5.4 Sociology
  • 5.9 Other social sciences
  • 6.2 Languages and Literature

Publication Type*

  • 3.4. Other publications in conference proceedings (including local)


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