Thoughts on ethnography and blogs

I’ve been quite busy since my last blog posting, which was a while ago now, but there’s something I’ve found awkward about thinking about posting here while in the midst of doing fieldwork, blogging-while-fieldworking being something I’ve never done before until now. Fieldwork is a slow process that comes in fits and starts, and has episodes of intensity and then seemingly long periods of not feeling much is happening. It doesn’t align well at all with the immediate feedback and gratification world of the internet and blogging. It’s like “slow food’s” criticism of fast food: rushing through a meal just fills your belly; it doesn’t fill your brain or spirit and ignores the subtle complexities of the food itself, where it comes from, etc. Ethnography is the “slow” method.

Not to say that ethnography can’t be fairly quick under certain circumstances (AKA parachute ethnography, done largely by applied anthropologists) but when I’m in the middle of fieldwork as I have been here during the past month, I feel like my central goal is to get as many field notes down as I can (and I have been taking a lot of field notes), not getting something “out there” for public consumption. Telling stories from it all feels too raw, my “data” being not-yet-ready-for-primetime. In my twenty years of using this method in many different social contexts, I’ve discovered that it takes a lot of mental processing, thought, and reading to go from the raw field notes to saying something that is truly interesting and worthwhile.

Furthermore, field notes are often full of a ton of what I call “white noise,” that is observations, snippets of conversation, reflections, etc. that will never see the light of day because they don’t align with the themes and patterns that seem to be emerging through this inductive process, or because in spite of my best intentions I’m not able to follow up on them as I opportunistically or strategically dial in on other emerging stories or themes that I sense or realize are more critical than I had expected. It all points to a simple fact: cultural dynamics and the process of ethnographic research are messy and don’t fit neatly into the world of packaged blogs.

Having said that, in the coming days I will get back on it and post here on what I’ve been up to with the caveat that it’s all very raw. I will begin with the story of buying my bike…

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