After the fieldwork, which as I stated in the last post produced silence, comes the noise. The noise of sorting out well over a year of ethnographic data in a viable Anthropological thesis that both makes a contribution to the disciple, and speaks with as much sincerity as possible of behalf of the people who made the ethnography possible, the informants. Further this piece of work should be fun to write and for me that I believe in. And this brings me to the point of this post, noise.
What I mean by noise is that indecipherable abundance that can be large amounts of data. Take any moment of life and what do you have. Sights, sounds, smells, meanings, emotions, relations, power, history. So much.. so we all start with a point to our gaze, we direct our attention to the useful moment, we walk down the street missing to get to where we are going, not to notice the floor, which sometimes holds lost money (isn’t it nice when you find some). And this what this post is about, cutting through the noise. In her book ‘Meeting the Universe Halfway’ Karan Barad uses the double split experiment in physics to illustrate her point. Describing the ways in which an electron can appear to act as a both a wave and an particle at the same time Barad draws attention to the ways in which our understanding of objects is always a cut. That is, our gaze only draws upon certain aspects of the properties and actions of any moment, so that what we understand is a phenomena. So in the double split experiment the results of the experiment differ when different apparatus are used to understand the relations of materials and their actions. As such the apparatus effects the phenomena produced and as such our understandings of what goes on.
In relation to the large amounts of data I gathered during my ethnography I have a double cut in operation. Firstly the things I noticed and recorded reflect my intentions in recording my experiences, so I look for certain properties to explain certain phenomena. Secondly those recordings have to be cut again into a readable narrative into the thesis. Without wanting to go back to the debate that raged through the subject during the crisis of representation I would like to draw attention to the ways in which out of noise comes order. It is not object, electron that is sought; rather we seek to describe phenomena. That is we aim to gain an understanding of what is happening in peoples worlds that help them make sense of their being. As such it is the questions that jump out at us that get attention. We make cuts in the noise to answer questions. There is nothing to radical about this but if we acknowledge this cutting as mechanism then the worry over representation over real fades but the question of the politics of the question and more so the nature of the cutting emerges.
Over the summer months whilst getting some distance from my fieldwork I wrote a few conference papers to get the writing hand going. The last conference I was in was today and was called ‘Spatial Cultures’. The conference, convened and opened by Sam Griffiths set out a number of questions during the opening address. The first was; What does spatial culture mean? The second was; What methods do we use to analyse what we are looking at spatially and thirdly what role does mobility have in this?
After submitting a paper and presenting I argued that when analysing something spatially what we are doing is grounding relations over phenomena between through and over materials. So this could be fear over space, could be tweets over space, buildings over space. Space is taken as Euclidean sense where distance between materials matters. The key for me is why anyone would spatialise a relation? This helps us get at question 1. If we ask the intention behind the creation of data then we start to understand the choices made in viewing, cutting the possible attributes of things to look at. We can ask as to the choice of scale, frames of analysis, what type of phenomena are being measured. This leads us to question 2 about methods. In my paper I looked at how an architectural analysis of the spatial relations amongst the materials of the suburbs were incompatible with how my informants in the suburb saw them. The two groups pressesnced very different attributes of the materials of the suburb. Both groups aimed to further their understanding of them, both groups aimed to make place better and both groups. However the regimes of value, the ways in which materials are understood are hugely different. For some the materials afford a further of new forms of socio-economic value whilst for the other material spaces afford new ways to develop sociality. In this sense the properties of the materials they sensed, and related to were different. In a phenomenological sense, their experiences were different. They saw different things.
My sense in this post is that I am coming to terms with seeing different things, that is, I am starting to see the world as polyontological. The next question becomes what is the politics of this and how does it precipitate down onto people and their quality of live. In this sense the analysis I make, we make, as academics becomes not one of pressencing but of selective erasures. We rid ourselves of perceived irrelevances. The task now has become super political. As an anthropologist I feel ethnography can help illuminate erasures, absences and silences in data. The task however is understanding the cuts you make yourself and the implications of that. Bring on the noise!