These articles represent a broad range of methodological innovation and conceptual sophistication, grounded in thoughtful ethnographic research. For the most part, the methods that the authors present have been carefully tested and been proven successful over a long period of time. This suggests that these methods are potentially applicable in a variety of settings and different ethnographic contexts. It is also likely that these methods will continue to be modified and refined over time.
The time-honored technique of freelisting is explored in Quinlan’s contribution. Its early use by ethnobiologists was foundational in establishing native taxonomies of flora and fauna. Quinlan reviews its use and finds that the technique still has much to offer ethnobiology today. Drawing on her work on medicinal plants in Dominica, she clearly addresses the strengths and weaknesses of the technique and makes suggestions for improved accuracy.
The work of Brent Berlin and Elois Ann Berlin has spanned four decades and involved long-term fieldwork with Highland Maya in Chiapas, Mexico, and Aguaruna Jivaro in Peru. While their ethnobiological research has covered many topics and domains, their article here is concerned with their work in medical ethnobiology and some of the innovations in field research they have developed over time. They present a framework for data collection that involves the use of local collaborators and allows for a broad-scaled regional approach to ethnobiology. This comprehensive approach to data collection ensures that the range of knowledge variation within a sociolinguistic group is captured, along with a fairly complete portrait of their relationshipwith the local biota that is used for medicinal purposes. The proof of the utility of such a framework is demonstrated by the enormous database they have developed, and some of the analyses of these data are presented in their article. Drawing from a substantial background in cognitive anthropology and ethnographic research, Norbert Ross and colleagues present a thoughtful study of Tzotzil Maya ethnobotany involving an innovation using a triad design with a new coding scheme that can then be analyzed for informant agreement through cultural consensus analysis. In doing so, they provide an analytical framework that can be applied to the understanding of categorization and classification.
Moving from a formal cognitive approach to a slightly more applied setting, we find a valuable contribution from Soleri and Cleveland involving the use of scenarios to arrive at an emic understanding of farmers’ knowledge. While much has been written lately about the supposed incompatibility of scientific knowledge with local knowledge, their application of scenarios demonstrates that, in fact, the two worldviews share many commonalities and are based on some of the same underlying models.
Participatory research is becoming increasingly more common in the social sciences, and ethnobiologists are contributing to this effort. Medley and Kalibo’s article describes ways to engage in participatory ethnobotanical research that can help lead to a better understanding of local environmental knowledge. Using a range of techniques in a participatory setting at Mt. Kasigua, Kenya, they clearly demonstrate the utility of participatory approaches and suggest new ways to conduct ethnobiological and ethnoecological research.
Taken as a whole, these articles demonstrate some of the best and most innovative research techniques being used in ethnobiology. At the same time, this is only a small sample of the work being done in ethnobiology, much of it involving the application of techniques that are similarly innovative and leading to significant advances in the field. As progress is made, it is hoped that Field Methods will continue to revisit the issues raised by these techniques and continue to be at the forefront of field research methodologies in ethnobiology.