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On practices of writing field notes

I found it hard to find sources that talk about the day to day realities and struggles of keeping regular field notes during ethnographic research and what those field notes actually look like and amount to—the practices of taking field notes, as opposed to an ideal-type (or extremely Type A personality) method for taking them. With this in mind, I’m sharing here some of my practices and struggles with taking field notes. I lean on the book Field Notes by Luis A. Vivanco (2016) for its very useful theorization and concrete discussion of field note taking (and ethnographic methods in general). I greatly appreciate Vivanco’s approach, as written into the title of chapter one, that emphasizes: “anthropology beyond ‘just go do it.'”

Note that I added a post-fieldwork update below! “On taking field notes when, where, and how you can, and what to document” [Added January 9, 2020]

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On (digital) tools for doing ethnographic research

There are a bunch of physical things, smart phone apps, and other software that I’ve found incredibly useful while doing ethnographic research, research in general, and just traveling near or far from home in general as well. Many of these things I learned through experience or trial and error, or found about about because someone recommended them, and so I thought I would share a compilation in case it is useful to others.

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On doing ethnography and implementing methods–a reading / resource list

Especially since beginning fieldwork research almost two months ago now, I’ve been desperate for more advice on doing ethnography and implementing methodological approaches (for a discussion of specific tools see here). Some blogs with fantastic resources that I came across include: Anthrodendum (and its prior home at Savage Minds), Raul Pacheco-Vega’s blog, Ethnography MattersFootnotes, and Fieldsites, and the open access journal Anthropology Matters.

Below is a list of some blog posts, books, podcasts, and other resources that I’ve found helpful to think with for a variety of reasons, including their honesty, concreteness, and critical interrogations of what constitutes “research.”

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On (pre)fieldwork to-do lists

The list of things I wanted to get done pre-fieldwork in Chile (coming from the US) felt endless. Getting hearing aids (which I’ve long needed, but seemed extra important where my hearing impairment is twice as noticeable when I’m already struggling with a second language). Studying and passing my doctoral candidacy exam. Making sure all other requirements for candidacy had been fulfilled and on record. Fulfilling grant requirements just in time, including medical clearance, and writing up an orientation presentation on my research and background. Compiling readings and resources on methods and fieldwork (ongoing). Figuring out my Brooklyn apartment and storage situation and moving things. Packing lists. Packing itself. Checking airline luggage size and weight limits. Ordering hiking shoes and good walking sandals, and a few months supply of a couple of my favorite toiletry items. Finding an apartment down here and coordinating with my future roommate. Ordering a new passport and an FBI background check in order to apply for a visa. Applying for the visa, and picking it up in person. Applying for a new travel credit card to avoid foreign transaction fees. Ordering foreign currency to take with when I first arrive. Setting travel alerts on my bank cards. Writing up and sharing an itinerary with flights, dates, addresses, contacts, and phone numbers with close ones. Sorting through books and slowly cutting down to the essentials I could bring with me given luggage weight limits (only ended up bringing two books and a Kindle! Though I did have some other books later sent here). Attempting to stay calm about leaving the life and home I’d built for so long to begin a very new phase of life for the next nine months. Making last visits and saying goodbyes.

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