Week 6: October 7: On Documentation / Developing Protocols

Martin Venezky, Process for Frameline 26, via Letterform Archive

How can we design our systems of documentation? Today we’ll consider what forms of documentation we’d like to create – and which would be most useful for our partners – and how we can best organize, annotate, and share our records with one another for analysis and inclusion in our final report. We’ll experiment by documenting our own discussion of documentation – creating ridiculously “meta” multimodal fieldnotes of our own class, and reflecting on the affordances of these various formats. 

Pamela Puchalski will join us at the beginning of class to offer an update on OHNY planning and to answer our questions. We’ll also look ahead to OHNY Weekend to consider how each of us wants to spend our time, and to ensure that we’re distributing our research team physically and virtually in such a way that we cover various sites and events, and that we engage with various people, to support our research goals. 

To Prepare for Today: 

  • How can we document our work – and begin to gather our thoughts through that process of documentation? Pachirat addressed fieldnotes on pp. 112-25 in Among Wolves, but let’s think a bit more about their methodological and epistemological affordances and limitations. I’ve gotta be honest: I find that a lot of fieldnote methods guides (some of which you’ll find listed in the Supplemental Resources below, and some of which are indeed useful) fetishize and romanticize fieldnotes – or frame note-taking as an intimidatingly, punctiliously exact science. I own my heresy 😉 Rather than engaging in “methodolatry,” let’s think about how note-taking can be more capacious and productive, and can serve our larger epistemological, aesthetic, and ethical end-goals. We can start by reading Jean Jackson’s “‘I Am a Fieldnote’: Fieldnotes as a Symbol of Professional Identity” in Roger Sanjek, ed., Fieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology (Cornell University Press, 1990): 3-33 and Kelsey Chatlosh’s “On Practices of Writing Field Notes” (September 23, 2019). I also encourage all of us to heed Andrea Wojcik, Rachel Allison, and Anna Harris’s advice to avoid thinking of research – and fieldnotes in particular – as something that’s meticulously planned, standardized, and bureaucratized, and to instead leave room for “bumbling along” 😊
  • Optional: What if we’re creating resources to be shared within a group? How do we engage in collaborative documentation? Read Roser Beneito-Montagut, Arantza Begueria, and Nizaiá Cassián, “Doing Digital Team Ethnography: Being There Together and Digital Social Data,” Qualitative Research 17:6 (2017): 664-82 (again, feel free to skim the sections about team vs. solo ethnography; we’ve covered this terrain!). 
    • Optional: If you’re interested in the role of data-sharing in anthropological research, see Fortun, Poirier, Morgan, et al. in the “Supplemental Resources” below. And if you’re interested in the use of collaborative fieldnotes in corporate applied anthropology, see Cury below. 
  • Now, let’s think about what kinds of experiences, interactions, processes, or phenomena we want to capture, what qualities of the “field” we want to document, what people and perspectives we want to include in that documentation, and what tools/formats/styles are best equipped to do this work? How might we use photos, videos, audio recording, drawings, maps, diagrams, screenshots, etc? How do these documents supplement or supplant our fieldnotes? What other designerly – or perhaps even automated – techniques of observation and documentation might we employ? Which seem particularly pertinent to our field sites and critical concerns? We’ll discuss in class. 
  • Managing our notes and other forms of documentation will be particularly important for our large group. What protocols should we establish for formatting, naming, organizing, and storing our materials? Graduate students: please read Kathryn Oths, “Cultural Anthropology: Principles and Practices of Digital Data Management,” in Blenda Femenías, ed., Bringing Digital Data Management Training into Methods Courses for Anthropology (American Anthropological Association, 2016). 
  • Finally, following the example of CLEAR, how can we develop a guidebook that codifies our values, guidelines for ethical practice, and protocols for “data” collection and management? What else do we want to spell out, to commit to, to hold ourselves accountable to?  This will be our focus for the following two weeks. 

Zak Jensen

Supplemental Resources:

  • Andrew Causey, Drawn To See: Drawing as an Ethnographic Method (University of Toronto Press, 2017). 
  • Teena Clerke and Nick Hopwood, Doing Ethnography in Teams: A Case Study of Asymmetries in Collaborative Research (Springer, 2014): esp. 40-66.*
  • Maria Cury, “Fieldnotes as a Social Practice,” EPIC Conference, Sao Paolo, 2015.*
  • Sarah Daynes and Terry Williams, On Ethnography (Polity, 2018) (especially “Seeing, Writing, Narrating”).
  • Robert M. Emerson, Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw, Chapters 1 to 3 in Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, 2nd ed. (University of Chicago Press, 2011).
  • Mike Fortun, Lindsay Poirier, Alli Morgan, Brain Callahan, and Kim Fortun, “What’s So Funny ‘Bout PECE, TAF, and Data Sharing?” in Dominic Boyer and George E. Marcus, Collaborative Anthropology Today: A Collection of Exceptions (Cornell University Press, 2020): 115-40.
  • Clifford Geertz, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” The Interpretation of Cultures (1973). 
  • Jean E. Jackson, “Changes in Fieldnotes Practice over the Past Thirty Years in U.S. Anthropology” in Roger Sanjek and Susan W. Tratner, eds., eFieldnotes: The Making of Anthropology in the Digital World (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016): 42-62.
  • Lori M. Jahnke and Andrew Asher, “The Problem of Data: Data Management and Curation Practices Among University Researchers,” CLIR (n.d.). 
  • Paula Jarzabkowki, Rebecca Bednarek, and Laure Cabantous, “Conducting Global Team-Based Ethnography: Methodological Challenges + Practical Methods,” Human Relations 68:1 (2015): 3-33 (on protocols for data sharing: 23-4).
  • ProfTeak, “An Anthropologist’s Fieldnotes (PhD Vlog #17)” (February 27, 2018) < video: 5:47 >.
  • H. Russell Bernard, “Field Notes and Database Management” in Research Methods in Anthropology, 5th ed. (AltaMira, 2011): 291-300. 
  • Roger Sanjek, ed., Fieldnotes; The Making of Anthropology (Cornell University Press, 1990). 
  • Michael Taussig, I Swear I Saw This: Drawings in Fieldwork Notebooks, Namely My Own (University of Chicago Press, 2011). 
  • Luis A. Vivanco, “Taking Notes” in Field Notes: A Guided Journal for Doing Anthropology (Oxford, 2017): 39-52. 
  • Tricia Wang, “Writing Live Fieldnotes,” Ethnography Matters (August 2, 2012).
  • Andrea Wojcik, Rachel V. Allison, and Anna Harris, “Bumbling Along Together: Producing Collaborative Fieldnotes” in Casey Burkholder and Jennifer Thompson, eds., Fieldnotes in Qualitative Education and Social Science Research: Approaches, Practices, and Ethical Considerations (Routledge, 2020).*  

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