The Innocent Anthropologist is a written account of Nigel Barley's experience of doing fieldwork among the Dowayo in rural Cameroon in the early 1980s. The strength of the book is that it includes the personal problems that emerge with the frustrations, boredom, tribulations, and misinterpretations that inevitably emerge in the context of "doing ethnography" as well as a true test of cultural relativism through out his journey.
Barley's methodology is mainly clouded by his inexperience. Fieldwork is made up of fact gathering data and turning it into ethnography. It is often seen as though it will make a great contribution to human knowledge. This is not the case in Barley's experience, as what he encounters in the tribulations while he studies in the field the language, culture, rituals, and beliefs – more or less leads to self discovery more than content for contribution. Most anthropologists decide their location with out yet even knowing what their thesis will be since what initially gets their attention is not what necessarily ends up being the focus of their ethnography. Barley, like most anthropologists, did not have a location in mind. In the end he decides on Africa although it was not his initial point of focus. And actually thought of it being boring. Ironically when he returns from Cameroon he is faced with major culture shock.
Problems are the main focus of Barley's account of his fieldwork mostly in part due to his inexperience and lack of acceptance of cultural relativism. His first problem arises when applying for grant money. He gets rejected twice and rewrites his application three times. Third was the charm. There are many more anthropologists who need grants than there is grant money offered so competition for the grants are fierce. Then he needed permission to do research. This was equally challenging for Barley to achieve. He wrote a year before he wanted to go to Cameroon After a long wait and no response he writes for permission again, the Cameroonian government replies and asks Barley to explain the scope of his travel, which he sends off his reply right away.