Doing fieldwork with kids: Part I

Recently I started a new research project looking at the social impacts of three Sistema-inspired orchestral music education programmes operating in low decile schools in the Wellington region, where I live. El Sistema is a Venezuelan music and social development initiative that began in 1975 and is today one of the world’s largest and most famous orchestral music education programmes. Sistema-inspired programmes operate in over 60 countries and there are at least six here in New Zealand, including Auckland-based Sistema Aotearoa. My new project involves working with kids: those involved in the orchestral programmes, and my own. In this post I reflect on what it’s like to do fieldwork with my kids in tow, and in the next I’ll discuss how I plan to work with the children in these programmes.

It took me a good couple of years after finishing my PhD to start a new major research project. There were a few reasons for this. Two weeks after submitting my PhD I started working as a lecturer on a series of short-term contracts which meant constantly developing and teaching new courses. I needed to publish from my dissertation so I could secure a permanent academic position – something that is extraordinarily difficult as an adjunct, as many blogs, news articles and #quitlit posts on social media have pointed out. I had my daughter in 2012. And I needed some space to think about what I wanted to work on for the foreseeable future. In 2013 I was employed on a 3-year, part-time contract, meaning I could access university research funding not available to those on short-term contracts. This, combined with the fact that you need to be research-active with a track record of obtaining funding in order to compete for academic jobs, meant it was a good time to develop a new research project.

When I started my PhD I had not yet met my husband and children were not on my horizon, so everything and anything seemed possible. Now I had two other people to think about in deciding where, how, and what I wanted to research – in that order. I wanted to do ethnographic fieldwork in Wellington and continue my interest in development and social justice. Basing my new project in Wellington was also a practical decision: I could take my daughter with me, I wouldn’t need to be away from home for extended periods of time, and I could get started without the security of funding or a permanent job. Coming up with a feasible project was more difficult, but a serendipitous sequence of events led me to Sistema Aotearoa and eventually the charitable organisations that run Sistema-inspired orchestral music programmes in Hutt Valley and Porirua.

I was pregnant with my second child by the time I established relationships with the organisations, developed a research proposal and obtained funding, and received ethics approval to begin the research. Ethnographic fieldwork was relatively straightforward to begin with as I could take my music-loving daughter and composer/conductor/musician husband along to interviews and performances. Things became a bit tricker after our son was born last year.

2015-09-26 08.45.32
Part of my field-and-carework kit

For a start, my fieldwork kit expanded significantly from a pen, notebook, iPad and camera to include nappy bag, frontpack, and buggy as well as preschooler snacks and activities. I didn’t always have my daughter with me but my son was now a permanent attachment, meaning I relied heavily on family and research assistants for help. He still breastfeeds frequently at night and at the moment my fieldwork doesn’t extend to evening rehearsals as it is just too difficult to get away after the dinner-bath-bed routine. I do go to some evening and weekend performances, usually with one or both kids in tow, and my husband or mother-in-law (also a musician).

Combining fieldwork with carework is not easy. I no longer write notes in the field while my kids are with me, instead relying on my memory, what Simon Ottenberg terms ‘headnotes’ (in the 1990 book Fieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology edited by Roger Sanjek), and my GoPro camera. I miss things when I’m breastfeeding or changing nappies or leaving the room with a screaming baby or taking a preschooler who’s had enough somewhere else to play. (I have a keen recollection of my then 3-year-old daughter standing up during the middle of a concert and loudly announcing, “That’s enough, everyone wants to go home now.”) My kids miss me when I pay attention to the person I’m interviewing or spend an afternoon at music lessons without them. I often don’t get time to write up my fieldnotes in Evernote at the end of the day, and I definitely don’t have the same amount of time or headspace available to just think.

Despite the difficulties, there are a lot of things I enjoy about combining fieldwork with carework. I like my children being able to see and participate in what I do and love watching their interest in music grow. I get a different perspective when sitting on the floor with my son. My daughter often makes interesting observations about things that I hadn’t noticed, and I value being able to discuss the musical aspects of performances with my husband and mother-in-law. I also appreciate the connections I can make with the children I’m working with, who invariably ask “whose mother are you?” upon meeting me, and also with their parents.

Doing fieldwork with children in tow is not new; a number of anthropologists and geographers have offered useful insights into how one’s children can shape the research process. Kelly Dombroski’s excellent blog post on carework in fieldwork discusses some recent publications on this topic (including her own). However I have not yet come across much work that reflects on fieldwork at home with children. Even this “Family in the Field” survey of anthropologists undertaking fieldwork with their children assumes that ‘the field’ is somewhere away from home.

Do you do ethnographic fieldwork with your kids at locations close to your home? Do you know of people who have written about this? I would love to hear of your experiences!

Version 3
At a concert with my 5 month old (note the buggy doubling as a tripod)

 

Anthropology theses published in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2014

Following on from my post last year, here is a list of theses (Masters and PhD) published in anthropology departments in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2014. My list includes all major universities except for Auckland University of Technology, not because AUT doesn’t offer anthropology (it does, in the School of Social Sciences and Public Policy) but because it takes an interdisciplinary approach and I couldn’t tell which of its theses were more or less ‘anthropological.’

I compiled this list by searching the New Zealand National Union Catalogue of the National Library of New Zealand, which holds masters theses and doctoral dissertations awarded by New Zealand universities. I also searched individual university library catalogues and online research commons. I used the keywords “anthropology” and “thesis” in my search. Some catalogues were more difficult to navigate than others and I had restricted access to several resources, so my apologies to those whose names I have missed. Please comment below if you have a thesis to add to this list or correction I need to make.

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Rethinking Responsibility

The programme is now out for this weekend’s conference, Competing Responsibilities: The politics and ethics of responsibility in contemporary life. I’m excited to hear keynote speakers Nikolas Rose and Cris Shore, of course, but I am also looking forward to hearing how other presenters are rethinking responsibility and responsibilization as theoretical and analytical concepts. SavageMinds.org recently featured an interview with conference organisers Catherine Trundle and Susanna Trnka which nicely introduces the conference theme.

I was inspired by the conference theme and have developed the paper below (based on my PhD research) to focus on how grassroots organisations become responsibilized in the absence of effective state interventions in urban poor areas.

TITLE:
Responsibilizing grassroots organisations in “forgotten places” in Howrah, West Bengal, India.

ABSTRACT:
In 1991 the Government of India implemented widespread economic liberalisation policies which, as well as contributing to India’s recent economic rise to global significance, had important and uneven effects on various social groups within India. Despite official reports of declining poverty in India, neoliberal ideas and policies have not improved the lives of those living in poverty – many of whom are Muslim – in bastis in Howrah, West Bengal. This paper argues that Howrah’s bastis are “forgotten places,” historically and politically constructed enclaves that are neglected, but nevertheless deeply inhabited, by the state. In these bastis, services that are the responsibility of the state – such as access to education – are not adequately provided for, leaving a gap that NGOs and grassroots organisations try to fill. This paper provides an ethnographic account of what happens in such “forgotten places” by describing the efforts of Howrah Pilot Project, an organisation that seeks to address this gap by running a grassroots-level, nonformal school in one of Howrah’s bastis. Processes of ‘active forgetting’ serve to responsibilize such organisations, but their practices need to be augmented by a responsive state in order to achieve meaningful, long-term, beneficial change.

Anthropology theses published in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2013

Ever wondered what kind of topics graduate students in anthropology work on in ‘the antipodes’ (a term I’ve often heard used to describe where I’m from)? The following is a list of theses (Masters and PhD) published in anthropology departments in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2013.

I compiled the list by searching the New Zealand National Union Catalogue of the National Library of New Zealand, which holds masters theses and doctoral dissertations awarded by New Zealand universities as well as individual university library catalogues. I used the keywords “anthropology” and “thesis” in my search. Some catalogues were more difficult to navigate than others and I had restricted access to several resources, so my apologies to those whose names I have missed.

The theses are listed in alphabetical order according to the surname of the graduate. Congratulations to everyone to everyone who received degrees!

The Political Economy of Monumental Architecture at Nan Madol, Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, by Helen Alycia Alderson.
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Otago
Advisor: Mark McCoy
Degree: Master of Arts

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder diagnosis and intervention: An investigation of professional practice in New Zealand, by Kerryn Bagley.
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Otago
Advisors: Rugh Fitzgerald and Chrystal Jaye
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

The Sweet Potato Factory – An Archaeological Investigation of the Pouerua Cultivation Landscape, by Alexander Campbell Bell.
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Otago
Advisor: Ian Barber
Degree: Master of Arts

The Disrupted and Realigned Self: Exploring the Narratives of New Zealanders with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, by Lara Joyce Milka Bell.
Cultural Anthropology, Victoria University of Wellington
Advisors: Catherine Trundle and Rhonda Shaw
Degree: Master of Arts

Tombs and trade: strontium and mobility at ed-Dur (U.A.E.), by Augusta Violet Bunting.
Anthropology, University of Auckland
Degree: MA Biological Anthropology

Bodies in context: a comparative study of early childhood education in New Zealand and Japan, by Rachael Sarah Burke.
Social Anthropology, Massey University
Advisors: Graeme MacRae (Massey) and Judith Duncan (Canterbury)
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

Bronze Age nomadic pastoralism on the Mongolian Steppe, by Brittany Rose Carroll.
Anthropology, University of Auckland
Degree: Master of Arts

Time of Transition: Patterns of Obsidian Exchange and Utilization during the Lapita and Post-Lapita Periods on Watom Island, Papua New Guinea, by Yi-lin Chen.
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Otago
Advisor: Glenn Summerhayes
Degree: Master of Arts

Glimpses of Eternity: Sampled Mormon Understandings of Disability, Genetic Testing, and Reproductive Choice in New Zealand, by Kristin Clift.
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Otago
Advisor: Ruth Fitzgerald
Degree: Master of Arts

Medicating Miners: The Historical Archaeology of the St Bathans Cottage Hospital, by Jessie Garland.
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Otago
Advisor: Ian Smith
Degree: Master of Arts

‘Wrought into being’: An archaeological examination of colonial ideology in Wellington, 1840-1865, by Rose Caroline Geary Nichol.
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Otago
Advisor: Ian Smith
Degree: Master of Arts

Dental pathology profile of pre-European Maori and Moriori, by Amanda George.
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Otago
Advisors: Richard Walter and Jules Kieser
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

Argonauts of Aotearoa: voyages of alternative ageing via the movanner archipelago, by Kim Green.
Social Anthropology, Massey University
Advisors: Graeme MacRae and Kathryn Rountree
Degree: Master of Arts

What’s Cooking? An Archaeological Residue Analysis of Ceramics from Thailand, by Cathleen Hauman.
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Otago
Advisors: Charles Higham and Russell Frew
Degree: Master of Arts

Game Balance: Designed structure and consumer agency in an online game, by Elizabeth Haynes
Cultural Anthropology, Victoria University of Wellington
Advisor: Catherine Trundle
Degree: Master of Arts

Himalayan journeys: a mobile ethnography and philosophical anthropology, by Christopher A. Howard.
Social Anthropology, Massey University
Advisors: Kathryn Rountree and Graeme MacRae
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

Buying fair: the moral assemblage of Trade Aid and its supporters / Corinna Frances Howland.
Anthropology, University of Auckland
Degree: Master of Arts

“Still at nature’s mercy”: human-environmental relations after the Christchurch earthquakes, by Heidi Elisabet Käkelä.
Anthropology, University of Auckland
Degree: Master of Arts

“Nourishing ourselves and helping the planet”: WWOOF, Environmentalism and Ecotopia: Alternative Social Practices between Ideal and Reality, by Elisabeth Kosnik.
Cultural Anthropology, Victoria University of Wellington
Advisors: Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich and Catherine Trundle
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

Assessing the temporal foundations of supra-regional models for early to mid-Holocene climate-cultural change, northeast Africa, by  Natasha Phillips.
Anthropology, University of Auckland
Degree: Master of Arts

Shooting and friendship over Japanese prisoners of war: differences between Featherston, New Zealand and Cowra, Australia in Japanese connections, by Yasuhiro Ota.
Social Anthropology, Massey University
Advisor: Graeme MacRae
Degree: Master of Arts

Foreign seasonal workers in New Zealand horticulture: an ethnographic account of the nexus of labour and immigration policies and employment practices, by Jana Prochazkova.
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Otago
Advisors: Jacqueline Leckie and Martin Tolich
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

Relieve me of the bondage of self: addiction practitioners from three treatment centres in New Zealand discuss the use of community as a method of healing the self, by Derek Ross Quigley.
Social Anthropology, Massey University
Advisors: Eleanor Rimoldi and Kathryn Rountree
Degree: Master of Philosophy

The politics of influence : an anthropological analysis of collective political action in contemporary democracy, by Kathryn Scott.
Anthropology, University of Auckland
Advisors: Julie Park and Cris Shore
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

Soldiers’ Foodways: Historical Archaeology of Military Comestibles in the Waikato Campaign of the New Zealand Wars, by Alexandra Lee Simmons.
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Otago
Advisors: Ian Smith and Helen Leach
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

Neighbours and Social Capital in the wake of the Christchurch Earthquakes, by Kirsten Stallard.
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Otago
Advisor: Gregory Edward Rawlings
Degree: Master of Arts

Narratives of Incorporation: An Anthropological Analysis of Same-Sex Civil Unions in New Zealand, by Dionne Steven.
Cultural Anthropology, Victoria University of Wellington
Advisors: Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich and Catherine Trundle
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

Understanding the culturally modified tree record and the socio-economy of the Weipa mission in Cape York, Australia, by Eleanor Jeneen Sturrock.
Anthropology, University of Auckland
Degree: Master of Arts

Cheese Machines and Cellos: Technical Craftsmen and Craft Technicians, by Gwenda Dorothy Wanigasekera.
Anthropology Programme, the University of Waikato
Advisors: Michael Goldsmith and Tom Ryan
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

Between Gifts and Commodities: “Op Shops” in Dunedin, New Zealand, by Valerie Jane Wilson.
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Otago
Advisor: Jacqueline Valerie Leckie
Degree: Master of Arts

Artefacts and Community Transformations: A Material Culture Study of Nineteenth Century North Dunedin, by Naomi Woods.
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Otago
Advisor: Ian Smith
Degree: Master of Arts

AnthroPod: The SCA Podcast

Seems I’m not the only one who likes the name anthropod!* The Society for Cultural Anthropology has recently launched a podcast series dedicated to interviewing cultural anthropologists about their work and experiences in the field.

The two podcasts available so far feature interviews with Michael Fisch (episode 1) about his research on commuter train suicides in Tokyo, and Richard Handler (episode 2) about how he helped to found the graduate Global Development Studies programme at the University of Virginia. Both Fisch and Handler have recently published articles on these topics in the journal Cultural Anthropology, and the podcast links to those articles (one is available through open access, the other is behind a paywall).

I was pleased to discover that the interviews don’t simply repeat what is in the articles; instead they provide the anthropologists with an opportunity to talk about their work in a more informal manner. I enjoyed hearing them enthuse about their work, discuss the challenges of fieldwork, and talk about how they developed their research projects and theoretical frameworks. Prof. Handler’s interview in particular was thought-provoking because of my own research interests in development, and like him I have found a lot of anthropology students are keen to work in the field of development.

The SCA promises more podcasts featuring interviews like this as well as shorter snippets explaining what anthropology is and what anthropologists do. If these first two are anything to go by, I will be a regular subscriber.

* anthropod: a term sometimes used in science fiction to describe humanoid alien beings. (That’s where I came across it, at any rate!)

A template for writing fieldnotes

For my PhD I carried out ethnographic fieldwork in different locations: bastis (slums) in the twin cities of Howrah and Kolkata (India), and urban and peri-urban settlements in the city of Lae (Papua New Guinea). I knew from earlier visits that these different settings would mean that I was in for very different fieldwork experiences. I also knew I was unlikely to have much control over events. However, I could take steps to standardise my data collection and notetaking processes as much as possible. In the early stages of my research I decided to create a fieldwork template with that goal in mind.

After reading what others had to say about ethnographic fieldnotes (including A Thrice-Told Tale by Margery Wolf [1992], Fieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology edited by Roger Sanjek, [1990], and Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes edited by Robert Merson, Rachel Fretz and Linda Shaw [1995]), I created a fieldnote template (originally in MS Word; now I use Pages) with the following sections:

[filename]
[TITLE]
[DATE]
In these sections I insert the filename of each document as a header, give each fieldnote a short title, and record the date.

[DESCRIPTION OF ACTIVITY]
This is for describing what happened during the day as accurately as I can. I take a ‘who, what, when, where, why, how’ approach and try to stick to ‘facts’ to create a verbal snapshot of what happened. This includes noting direct quotes and snippets of conversations, text messages, filenames of voice recordings, and what photos I took.

I am aware that all fieldnotes are constructed, and what we choose to take notes about are influenced by a range of factors, so in this section I try to minimise that. My aim is to keep description separate from analytical work for as long as possible while recognising that these snapshots are just that; a glimpse of a point in time from a particular perspective, through a particular lens.

[REFLECTIONS]
I reflect on the day’s experiences, writing about how I might have influenced events, what went wrong (and what I could do differently next time), and how I feel about the process.

[EMERGING QUESTIONS/ANALYSES]
Here I note questions I might ask, potential lines of inquiry, and theories that might be useful. This is where I start to do some analytical work.

[FUTURE ACTION]
This is a ‘to-do’ list of actions. I usually include a timeframe alongside each point.

How it works for me
I usually type my fieldnotes at the end of each day and use this template alongside handwritten notebooks, which I carry when I am out and about. I find that people often want to look at (and correct!) what I’m writing in notebooks so I use them to record people’s names, questions I want to ask, specific times of events, and for participants to write notes about what they think I should pay attention to.

I draw on all of the above sources, as well as photographs, emails, voice recordings (and their transcriptions), and my memories, when I write. I find the description section of my template is extremely useful for providing the context for photographs, recordings and transcriptions, and as a point of comparison for my memories, which change over time .

I have not (yet) started using digital media in my fieldnotes, although I am interested in how this works. I have been following EthnographyMatters since Tricia Wang’s post Writing Live Fieldnotes: Towards a More Open Ethnography about ‘live fieldnoting’ on Instagram. A recent issue of Popular Anthropology Magazine (Vol 4, No 1, 2013) has a section dedicated to blogging fieldnotes.

I am always keen to hear about how others take fieldnotes. What is your process? What are your thoughts on ‘live fieldnoting’ or blogging from the field?