Thursday, February 24, 2005

Some comments on taking field-notes

I am finding field notes much more difficult to write than I anticipated. I have always kept a journal, though not always regularly, but I am finding that the field-notes make me more aware than ever of how judgemental I am. everything has to be checked for bias or oppinion, and I am struggling to write about race, or language group. Anything that is 'other' for me is difficult to put into words without sounding judgemental or patronising. I am also finding it so difficult to keep from becoming 'instrumentalist' (my new word for the week ) when talking to people who I am researching. I really want to form more sincere personal relationships with them, but when one's first interaction with a person is in the role of 'researcher', it is really difficult to break out of that. In an interview yesterday, after I turned the taperecorder off, I tried to hold a casual conversation with the person I had been speaking with, but I found it just so stilted. From both sides. Every question I asked was answered as though it was an interview question, and I was in interview mode when talking about myself. I don't want to force unnatural friendships, but I wish I could find a more direct, honest way of building this relationship. I certainly intend to stick with them after my official research is over, because I am genuinely interested in what happens, but I am beginning to doubt the validity of the notion of 'participant observation'. No matter what I do, I am still in an artificial relationship to them. The fact that I was a member of the Wits choir before I began my research meant that the relationships were already established, and they knew me as human. They knew what i love, and what makes me cry, and that I was there because I loved the music, and the interaction, and them.
Writing that last sentence caused a light bulb to go on for me. I wanted as much out of that encounter as I do out of this. Perhaps more. I want something out of every encounter, and so does everyone else. Perhaps the research relationship is even less exploitative than an average encounter... At least I have layed my cards out on the table before it all starts. I still feel a little uncomfortable about it all, but I guess if I just remain open, honest, and and as aware as I can be of the situaiton, I'll be safe.

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