Fishing for Insights and the Need for Naturalism


Written By: Will von Schlegell


There’s not many more infuriating activities than fly fishing in the wind. Be it managing a tangled line or snagging your fly on a thicket of bushes in your back cast, the elements always play a role. Whether it’s your next dry fly excursion or ethnographic study, the sooner we accept that there are elements outside our control, the more tolerable our experience will be – and the better fly fishermen or social scientists we’ll become.


Today’s truth:

The social world is best studied in its natural state.

At BAMM, we believe research is most effectively carried out in a way that observes the nature of the setting and of the phenomena being investigated. This idea is central to Naturalism.


If you’ve ever been fly fishing, then you’re likely a practitioner of Naturalism. You’re aware that success is dependent upon leaving the natural order as unperturbed as possible. Fly fishing, to me at least, is a great way to enter into a foreign environment and just be an observer. It offers an opportunity to blend in while getting what you’re after.

For instance, landing your line softly on the water is one way to eliminate unwanted stimulus. A delicate cast can remove unnecessary and unnatural movement in the water, making it more likely the fish will approach the fly.


Or imagine mending the line to create natural movement with the fly in the water, mimicking that of a bug.

Whatever your technique, it’s important to implement your approach as naturally as possible in order to achieve the best results.

But we can’t completely remove ourselves from the research, so how do we truly embody a natural research methodology?

Well, one way is to be considerate of how we implement stimuli – and people, like fish, interpret stimuli. Have you ever caught the same fish multiple times? It tends to always be a smaller fish, falling for the same fly, in the same ripple of water (not exactly the prize we’re after). Just as with that fish, the ‘same’ physical stimulus (sets of interview questions or experimental instructions) can mean different things to different people – and indeed, to the same person at different times.


So while we may want to force our methodology or presence on our research, it’s important to blend in as much as possible – but also recognise that we’re now intrinsically bound to the environment we’re studying.

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