Waking up in the field

Today I officially begin a four month fieldwork period where I will be investigating how the internet is fueling change in anthropology.  Of course I’ve been thinking about this topic, making observations, and involving myself online for the past year. But not all research projects take up such an accessible topic and hence they rely more on intense and limited data gathering periods.

Traditionally I would take fieldnotes for 4 months, then reflect on (err analyze) them for a few more months , and finally write them up.  But in researching something so close to me, a field I can enter from just about anywhere, I find this divide between gathering data and writing it up unnecessary. However many anthropologists I’ve spoken to have said that the time for reflection between the fieldwork, and the final writeup was extremely valuable. So I’m going to try a compromise – I’m going to try and write it up as I go, and revise it with time to reflect.

The first chapter/vignette I intend to write up is the online debate surrounding the Human Terrain System (anthropologists working for the U.S. military). Over the next 2 weeks I will be dedicating a few hours a day to thinking about how anthropologists used the blogsphere to debate in public, rather than behind closed walls. I’m not assuming all the debate was held in public, or even the most important aspects.  I will use these observations to form a set of questions for anthropologists based on my observations.

I will tie the HTS debate into discussions of the “social field” of anthropology, looking at the internet and blogsphere as an arena, and the HTS debate as a “social drama”. This will be an experiment with Bourdieu’s concepts advocated by John Postill.

The second chapter of my research will involve a more reflexive investigation into how I am using online communication technologies to do research, and to learn about anthropology. I will talk about community and network formations.  Speaking of which, yesterday some classmates and I decided we would start up a private blog to share and discuss our fieldnotes. I encouraged everyone to start a public blog as well, but we agreed that by making a private one we could share all our field notes as we go and give each other feedback on issues we weren’t comfortable writing about publicly.

And yes, dear anthropologists, my eyes and ears are on you! No, no, I’m not staring, “I’m observing”.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Hi OW

    I look forward to following your progress. For other blog readers who may be interested in Victor Turner’s concept of social drama (a type of political process neglected by Bourdieu), I’ve blogged a paper on this in the context of malaysian internet activities here


    Would be very interested in feedback and comments as I’ll be reworking it in my forthcoming monograph “Grounding the Internet”

    All the best with your research!



  2. Sounds really interesting! Hope you will be blogging about the research as it progresses.


  3. good luck Owen! I hope it will be a productive fieldwork. I am on a break, travelling for self-recovery:)


  4. I’ve been wondering about the same fieldwork/analysis/divide issue too, seeing as my topic (blogs) is also easily accessible and something I’ve been doing for a while.
    I’ve also thought about doing the writing and researching at the same time, but a useful thing my supervisor said was to stop any reading during the ‘fieldwork’ period – i.e. to try and step consciously away from anthropology/academia for a while to enable space for new ideas to flow.
    By the way, you probably know this, but Stu Shulman has come out with a new ‘Blog Analysis Toolkit’ for qualitative data analysis (it’s free and online): https://surveyweb2.ucsur.pitt.edu/qblog/page_login.php


  5. Posted by Sara on July 28, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Good Luck 🙂


  6. Posted by Nirmala on July 28, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    So, about that ‘private blog’, it may not work for our field notes unless we change all the private information we will be going against confidentiality issues. It would just simple be unethical!


  7. Nirmala … an anthropologist who cares about ethics? OMG, just wait until the McFates get a hold of you!


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