Anthropology is quite a difficult field of study. Research does not propose a uniform book, which can facilitate the learning process for the students. However, there are some books, which may help to see the meaning of the subject and specific characteristics of anthropology that no other books provide.
Raybeck’s book Mad Dogs, Englishmen, and the Errant Anthropologist: Fieldwork in Malaysia is one of these books. The book describes in short the work of a typical anthropologist. In general, the language of the book is very easy to understand and the phrases are so well-written that the reader will not have problems remembering them. For this reason, the book is seen as a learning source much more than as the actual anthropological study. Fieldwork in Malaysia is not the primary focus of the book, and the story is based on the life situations, which the author faces throughout his stay in the country.
Raybeck clarifies the roles, which anthropologists have to play in order to obtain the necessary results. The author states that the ability of an individual to be always ready and prepared to the unexpected situations is vital for his work. The adaptable anthropologist, in the viewpoint of Raybeck, is a successful anthropologist. The most challenging moments are depicted in a light and humorous way, and the reader tends to remember and recognize them in the future.
Raybeck points the fact that the work of each anthropologist is very different. The methods, which a specialist applies in his fieldwork, be it Malaysia or any other country, vary according to the author. For this reason, Raybeck does not attempt to describe the standard methods he uses. On the contrary, Raybeck provides the reasons as to why each anthropologist has to overcome his own mistakes and awkward situations. In the opinion of Raybeck, this is where the experienced anthropologist comes from.
One of the very important topics of the book is the unexpected experience, which each anthropologist has to face from time to time. Raybeck explains why he cannot plan anything in his work, and even if he did, these plans would never come true. In real life, as Raybeck points out, the things are usually very different from what an anthropologist usually expects. These tiny experiences are a result of assimilation to the culture and the natural environment, in which an anthropologist conducts his fieldwork. Changing the rules of the game in this case can affect the results of the whole study.
What is also interesting about the book by Raybeck is that it is much more like a fiction book, not a real anthropological research based on the fieldwork, which the author made in Malaysia. The book presents life situations as they occur, and it does not outline the findings of the fieldwork but the actual story of how the fieldwork has been conducted by the author and his team.
The description of Malaysia and Kelantan in particular are not the primary focus of Raybeck in this book. Perhaps, the findings of the actual fieldwork were presented elsewhere. While reading the book, the reader gets a thought that the book was written not basing on the actual fieldwork but about fieldwork itself and the experiences it involves and results it affects in the final run.
Therefore, the book’s primary purpose is to serve to the people who work in anthropology and to help them see the reasons they get involved in various experiences during the whole period of their fieldwork. The outcomes of these experiences, both positive and negative, are described by Raybeck in his book. Many readers will find answers to their most important questions in terms of anthropology inside the book.
The material presented in the book is outlined and does not lack direction. Each next thought is derived from the previous thought. Raybeck makes it crystal clear that anthropology is and should be a funny and enjoyable thing to do. The content of the book covers all the main topics of anthropology and shows those pitfalls that the young and inexperienced anthropologists are likely to face during their fieldwork.
Other culture is described in a book with a great respect and admiration. It is seen that Raybeck sincerely admires the Malaysian culture and the people that surround him. Being an anthropologist, Raybeck not only sets the boundaries to the extent, in which an anthropologist is to work, but also helps to involve the reader in the discussion about the beliefs, cultural values, clothing style of the Malaysian people etc.
The position of the author is quite clear: he does not describe his fieldwork but the way he did his fieldwork and the experiences that surrounded his all that time. The natural environment and the factors that helped him make his rapport during fieldwork are the main subjects of the study.
The key personalities of the book are the people from one of the Malaysian cultures – the Kelantanese culture. They are the ones that differ in many factors from the western people. And what is interesting even more as Raybeck finds in his book, the Kelantanese culture does not come as a representative of Malaysia but their own very typical and abandoned set of values and beliefs.
The book is also very well structured. As material for anthropology undergraduates, it is a valuable material, which can be used both in a class setting and as additional literature. The book is suitable not only for the people who study anthropology, but also for those who are simply interested in the description of life experiences and travel journals.
The book is capable as a learning instrument. However, the overall structure of the book, the language and the simplicity, which is the basics for the material which is presented, makes us believe that the book is also suitable as additional reading material for the anthropology undergraduates.
For postgraduates of the anthropology programs, the book can be a very good selective revision. The contents of the book provide the knowledge about all the spheres, which are important during the fieldwork in any country. The book itself is a very interesting learning material for anthropologists and undoubtedly should be considered by all the students of the anthropology courses.
The appropriateness and adaptability of the material of the book make it a perfect learning source for those people who do not know anything about anthropology and fieldwork and would like to start getting involved into anthropological research. One of the key reasons to read the book is not only to learn about the Kelantanese culture in Malaysia and read the detailed descriptions of the people and their natural surroundings, but to learn from the life experience of a person in order not to repeat the same mistakes and recognize the best strategies for the fieldwork and anthropological research of other peoples and regions.
The topics, which are addressed in the book, are, as mentioned above, very well structured. The book itself is therefore a perfect fieldwork plan for any starting anthropologist and for those ones who have not yet had an opportunity to try their skills in the fieldwork. Therefore, even the contents of the book, where the author clearly describes each sphere of the social life of the nation which is the subject of his fieldwork, can be a perfect plan of anyone’s anthropological study based on other principles and beliefs. The group dynamics, which is also described within the book, is a result obtained by clearly seeing the dynamics of individuals, including the author, who is placed in an unnatural environment.
The author, however, not only looks at the inner elements of Kelantanese society. Raybeck takes inspiration from everything surrounding him. For this reason, the study conducted by him in Malaysia is of great value, as it also includes many external factors. These factors are in general very poorly addressed by the anthropologists; however, this group of factors represents the overall tendency towards the development of many social institutions and the implemented changes within the society.
Raybeck’s studies clearly present the results of his study in terms of political and economic development of the Kelantanese people. These external factors are proven to have influenced the relationships not only within the Kelantanese communities, but also their attitude towards foreigners.
For this reason, the whole work of the author has been quite complicated. Raybeck was working hard and writing about his experiences. The bad experiences should be well-examined and never repeated, and the good experiences should bring only positive results. Being involved by himself in a society of Kelantan, Raybeck found himself confronting the ideas of different family members of the society. He even wrote a whole chapter in his book about these values and how they affect the relationships with other people.
Raybeck has found himself as part of some processes during his fieldwork. He was at times not understood or even humiliated, but what is even more important, and what he has stressed in his book, is that he never stopped working. Despite the fact that the overall physical state was not the best at some particular moments, the author quickly recovered with the fieldwork activities. The book is a fine result of his work and is one of the best ones in the field of anthropology.
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