Pleas for Fieldwork: Polly Hill on Observation and Induction, 1966–1982

Including a Symposium on Mary Morgan: Curiosity, Imagination, and Surprise

ISBN: 978-1-78756-424-4, eISBN: 978-1-78756-423-7

ISSN: 0743-4154

Publication date: 24 October 2018

Abstract

The chapter reconstructs the methodological trajectory of Polly Hill. Crossing the boundaries between economics and anthropology, Hill’s work was simultaneously an epistemic challenge to development economics, and a testimony to the complexity and richness of economic life in what she called the “rural tropical world.” Drawing inspiration from the process that Mary Morgan referred to as “seeking parts, looking for wholes,” the chapter explores the evolving relationship between observational practice and conceptual categories in Hill’s work on West Africa and India. It is argued that fieldwork, the central element in Hill’s methodological reflection, served two main functions. Firstly, it acted as the cornerstone of her views on observation and induction, framing her understanding of the relationship between “parts” and “wholes.” Secondly, Hill used fieldwork as a narrative trope to articulate her hopeful vision for an integration of economics and anthropology, and later express her feelings of distance and alienation from the ways in which these disciplines were actually practiced.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank the participants and organizers of the conference “Curiosity, Imagination and Surprise,” two anonymous referees, and Mary Morgan for comments on an earlier version of this chapter. The usual disclaimer applies. The archival trip to consult the Polly Hill papers at the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies (Northwestern University) was generously supported by the Department of History of the University of Sussex, while the assistance of the librarians of the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies is gratefully acknowledged. Special thanks are due to Gareth Austin, Vinita Damodaran, Robert Dimand, Michael Lipton, Felix Meier zu Selhausen, and Alexander Moradi.

Citation

Serra, G. (2018), "Pleas for Fieldwork: Polly Hill on Observation and Induction, 1966–1982", Including a Symposium on Mary Morgan: Curiosity, Imagination, and Surprise (Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, Vol. 36B), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 93-108. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0743-41542018000036B007

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