The Ethnographer Unbared: Crossing Beaches of the Mind on Tanna


  • Ron Adams Victoria University Melbourne



Tanna, liminality, David Kaukare, Jean Guiart, ethnographic encounters, fieldwork


Using the metaphor of beach crossings made famous by ethno-historian Greg DENING (2004), in this article I reflect on my first experience of ethnographic fieldwork. In the article I document how, as a doctoral student investigating 19th century missionary activity, I transitioned from archival to field-based research on the southern Vanuatu island of Tanna in 1975, completed my PhD two years later, and have continued to develop my relations with the Tannese to the present. I argue that this reflects, not only the notable capacity of the Tannese to embrace strangers, but also the extraordinary bond I forged with one "informant", David KAUKARE. I describe how more than any other person it was David, a primary school teacher at an isolated east coast village, who mediated my crossing into a society profoundly different from my own. In the article I explore how together we negotiated the crossings between our interconnecting and shifting worlds—sometimes mindfully, but more often than not serendipitously. In focusing on those initial encounters, I reflect on how prepared—and unprepared—we both were for the experience, and the impact it had on our sense of self and connection with the world.


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Author Biography

Ron Adams, Victoria University Melbourne

Ron ADAMS is head of graduate researcher training at Victoria University Melbourne. Widely published in the areas of cross-cultural encounters in the Pacific and post-conflict reconciliation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, he is perhaps best known for his researcher development workshops conducted throughout Australia and across the globe, including the island Pacific. His Demystifying the Thesis program was awarded the Australian Learning and Teaching Council Award for Programs that Enhance Learning: Postgraduate Education. Similar prizes include the Victoria University Vice-Chancellor's Medal for Excellence in Research Training, the City of Essendon Prize and the Ann Hilda Sainsbury Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the Manoel De Vilhena Award for contributions to Maltese-Australian education.




How to Cite

Adams, R. (2022). The Ethnographer Unbared: Crossing Beaches of the Mind on Tanna. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 23(1).



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