National Geographic illustrates the art and excitement of social fieldwork in the form conducted by anthropologists, naturalists and journalists. And, also naturalists, ethnographers and travel writers carry the aptitudes and skill sets required for social fieldwork.
What can we learn from its annals of exploratory research narrative cloaked as legendary travelogue? Each story reveals the quintessential role of qualitative research (words rather than numbers) and helps us to better define what we hold up as “science.” Science is the art of making sense of our experience.
Starting in 1888, National Geographic blazed trails of “adventure and discovery” across our planet until the number of untouched landscapes dwindled along with cultural and biodiversity. Since its inception, we have seen the dislocation of culture from landscape. What is real is no more and we live in a “mainstream” confusion of brand as culture. For the most part, cultures portrayed are now extinct replaced by economies of tourism. This irony reveals the paradoxical failure of economic development as rolled out by our current political economy whose lexicon fails to explain quality of life, let alone quality of production. Efficiency at the cost of the future is not efficient.
When this well-loved zine lost its fodder, it also lost its purpose. The interrelationship of culture and nature holds the key to sustainability. There are no technical fixes. The only fix is to restore equity in our relationships to each other and to our natural resource base, planet Earth.