I wish to live with an indigenous tribe or 3 months, to study their culture and answer an almost independent dissertation question, under said cultural Anthropology. I would like to know the best way to find out if my research question has been answered, how can I do that without an advisor from a university? Is there a database, or what routes could I go down to find out/which is best.

Thanks for your time to answer.

  • 6
    Does your research involve human subjects? If so, please see the question Can I do experiments on humans without a degree? – scaaahu Aug 7 '17 at 12:25
  • 2
    You need an advisor. Not only will (s)he help you answer questions such as the one you are asking, but you will also need somebody to actually grade your project once it is done. One cannot just do research and then show up at a university and demand a degree. – xLeitix Aug 7 '17 at 12:47
  • 3
    This plan sounds like it's highly unethical. – Noah Snyder Aug 7 '17 at 13:15
  • 5
    The key is not about experiment or not. The key is if your research involves with human subjects, you must obtain IRB, otherwise it's considered unethical. This is what @NoahSnyder meant. – scaaahu Aug 7 '17 at 14:27
  • 6
    Lots of harm has been done to indigenous people by visitors, sometimes by researchers. Yes it's been done thousands of times, but lots of those were also unethical. To do this right you should have training, you should talk to people who have experience and knowledge about how to do this research without causing harm, and you should go through an IRB process. – Noah Snyder Aug 7 '17 at 17:42

To directly answer your core question, "how can I make sure my research question hasn't already been addressed/answered by previous researchers", the only real answer is a thorough literature review and an associated deep understanding of your research area. This is universally true of all research disciplines; knowing what others have done and learned before is a fundamental part of conducting research that advances human knowledge. If you just want to investigate something for your own personal interest, then this is not completely necessary, of course. But rediscovering something already known within a field may mean your research is not of interest or able to be academically published.

There are other dangers of not knowing background before you start, of course. The simplest is that you go about things wrong, and previous researchers have established that your approach is fundamentally flawed, dangerous, harmful, or otherwise inappropriate. It may be that others have done almost exactly what you intend to do, and you may simply be setting about to replicate a previous study. Replication is fine, but replicating something already found out to be flawed or insufficient to answer the key research questions may just be an exercise in futility.

As mentioned in the comments, there are major ethical issues if your proposed research involves human participants, such as doing sociological/anthropological work. This includes activities such as asking questions, giving surveys, and reporting on naturalistic observations. At best, not observing certain precautions and methods can mean no legitimate academic publisher will touch your work, and others in the field will reject it entirely as unreliable or unethical. At worst, you can do real harm to others and get yourself into serious trouble. Understanding and applying principles like informed consent, protection of privacy, respect of autonomy, etc, are important no matter what your goals are. Working with "at risk populations" (which can include indigenous tribes) requires an extra level of care, and may even have legal requirements of registration and authorization to be acquired in advance to avoid criminal proceedings, fines, or more.

But back to the core question, there is no simple, fast, or easy way to see if a question has been asked and/or answered before. It simply requires intimate familiarity with your field and line of research, preferably assisted by speaking with a network of fellow experts familiar in the field, and a lot of searching and reading through work on your own to determine what is and is not an open, interesting, and potentially answerable question. If your field has "survey papers" that explicitly call out a certain area as an "open area of inquiry" or an important question for future research, that's certainly a great place to start! But how exactly to conduct a good literature review is beyond the scope of this forum, and requires intimate knowledge of your particular field. You can start with Google Scholar and some clever search terms, but even knowing what terms to use is often a highly field-dependent issue. It is not insurmountable, but you should at very least be aware that this stage of research is both very important, very time consuming, and will require a great deal of work if you are not already deeply well versed in your field of inquiry.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy