Of course, if you go and speak to people in person then this has to occur in a ‘place’. I did not only go to ‘places’, I selected these places and the people and groups to interact with because of their relationship to a suburb (which is an administratively defined place).
Life in ‘advanced capitalist societies’ such as Australia is often described as ‘unbounded’ (e.g. Bauman). However, regardless of whether such a description is accurate, place is still a salient methodological grounding for exploring some aspects of the social world.
I agree with those who suggest that a study based around a place is not the same as one centred on a set of social relationships (e.g. Amit & Rapport 2002), but the case has also been made that, even for understanding the creation and practice of networked communities, neighbourhood scale geographies can still be significant (Clark 2009: 1573).
In the conclusion of Carrithers’ entry on field work in the Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Kumar’s remarks on the end of her fieldwork are quoted:
‘I was interacting with only a few informants on one level but on many other levels I was interacting with other components of the city. I felt beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was interacting with the city itself.’ (Carrithers 2002: 231).
I never felt I was able to interact with the suburb of Port Melbourne itself. However, I have no regrets (yet) about choosing to base my project not just on, but also in, a suburb.
Amit, V. and N. Rapport (2002). The trouble with community : anthropological reflections on movement, identity and collectivity. London & Sterling, Pluto.
Carrithers, M. (2002). Fieldwork. Encyclopedia of social and cultural anthropology. A. Barnard and J. Spencer. London & New York, Routledge: 229-231.
Clark, A. (2009). “From neighbourhood to network: a review of the significance of neighbourhood in studies of social relations.” Geography Compass 3(4): 1559-1578.