For almost a year now this blog has been inactive.  It became increasingly sedate as I emerged myself in the field of my PhD research.  It is considered almost an anthropological right of passage that one leaves the academy and gets shell shocked in the field, totally re-imagines their research in light of the ethnographic data in front of them and comes home to write up why they threw out the bathwater of the pre-fieldwork literature.  However as I moved beyond the upgrade and into field research my colleagues in the corridors of the anthropology department noticed that I was still very much in the corridors of the department “When do you leave for fieldwork” I would be asked.  Only my fieldwork was in London, not a remote archipelago conducive to culture shocks that shift ontological assumptions.  Was I to leave to the suburbs and to avoid the corridors of conversations that would saturate my thoughts with isms and ologys?   Was I to go and live in my own J.G. Ballard novel?

The notion of distance from academic life, its language, its ways of thinking and its routines is one that is considered vital to truly live through the lifeworlds of your informants.  For me, with most of my informants having full time jobs.  I needed a place to write up notes and myself feeling a little under prepared to be a ‘proper’ anthropologist I felt that I needed to keep a foot in the door of academia.  After all I my background was in geography, my first year of the PhD was layered with thoughts from Architecture through the influence of my mother project.  For a few months I kept the blog up, I wrote thinking that practice was needed.

My notes would be written up and I would ask people around in the department ‘who is writing on [insert topic of the day]’ and bank the knowledge in my back pocket for the writing up phase.  As time went on I felt as if the sort of works I was reading in anthropology, particular regarding walking in the landscape of the everyday was at a mismatch of what I was hearing on the ground.  Without intending to I would ask my informants about the topics I would come across in the literature.  The research methods I choose were also reflected in the literature.  After a few months I felt that I wasn’t making the relationships I wanted to make. I didn’t feel I had the trust of many of my informants.  I didn’t feel they didn’t trust me, rather I felt that they were helping me out, being polite, spending time with me to help me out but not really understanding what I was doing.  I brought up the disjunctures I felt with some of my informants at the end of informal interviews.  At some point a few of discussed the research over a few drinks when a non-informant asked me what I did for work in the area.  Another informant said ‘we are being studied…watch out he’s got a notebook’.  Working with some informants I took there advice and stopped writing stuff down that evening I just drank, chatted and made friends.

Over the next few months this happened, I turned off.  Over time the more I turned off the more people were interested in what I was interested in.  They asked what really got me so interested in this that I would hang out in a place and spend a good 3 years of my life on it.  This provoked more conversations, ‘you should come with me on Saturday…’ ‘you should talk to…..’ and so on.  After 6 months I had lived the cliché, I had dropped the original driver of research methodology and listened to my informants who had defined what I was doing through my basic passions.  Further they got involved, they got involved on their terms and when and how they wanted to.  This gives me a messy bunch of fieldnotes that don’t make sense with the literature I know.  But then that’s the point right?  A silence in the literature is good.  Don’t always take notes, listen, say nothing until someone else speaks.  This is the power of silence, I now have notes I believe in, something I really think I can say, I’m not sure what that is yet but it will reflect the lives of my informants, it will speak with them not bounce of them, I hope.

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