Rachel Shadoan Muses

Field Note Experimentation

The least enjoyable part of being an ethnographer, my class mates and I have discovered, may be the writing up of field notes. The notes we take in the field, which we actually call scratch notes, have to be translated into something that is reasonably coherent and human readable. Pictures have to be added in the appropriate places, descriptions written from lists of adjectives, and sketches have to be churned into prose. Then, the field notes have to be tagged, organized, and filed away for future use.

This usually takes me approximately three times as long to write up field notes as it does for me to do the field work initially. I feel that this is in part because I drag my feet. It feels weird to me, writing just for myself. After all, field notes are traditionally a jealously guarded part of an ethnographer’s net worth.

It occurred to me the other day, however, that I should write up my field notes in such a way that they can be directly posted onto the internet in blog form. This has several advantages:

  • Data would be stored on WordPress’s servers, floating safely and happily away in a computer cloud
  • Tagging system is built in
  • Accessible anywhere
  • Helpful to other people who can build on my research
  • Helpful to teach other people what field notes look like (since they are so jealously guarded, it’s hard to know what field notes are supposed to look like)

The primary disadvantage that I see is that it is possibly an ethical nightmare. However, as Kate and I have been discussing at length lately, ethics is going to have to move fast to catch up with modern ethnography.

So for things that are ethically appropriate, I will be posting my field notes on the internet, under the same CC license that I use for all my work. Perhaps you folks will even find them interesting!

I welcome discussion on this experiment!


This entry was posted on March 8, 2010 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , .
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