I’ve never made field notes before, let alone when participating in an online activity. I’ll say no more about what the online activity was since I’m already sufficiently troubled by ethical issues without giving myself another headache. In reality this was just an attempt to expose myself to a technique, not to capture any real data which might later find their way into an analysis. I’m nowhere near being in a position to begin capturing data yet; this was much more about trying out a method so I can see what the issues are and what I still have to learn.
This was prompted mainly by the video I watched last night by Graham Gibbs whose YouTube Channel is such a wonderful resource for those of us learning about research methods. Although I’ve read a little about participant observation, I’m far from being in a position to undertake a serious project. Nor have I yet read anything about making field notes, other than brief sections in books on ethnography.
So I thought I’d jump in at the deep end, enter a field and reflect on the experience. This post isn’t that reflection. I got distracted!
After the activity I looked back at my notes and wondered where to go next. What is the appropriate behaviour for an ethnographer making field notes? How does one make them? What should they look like? What post-processing should be undertaken? (I still have to watch the second part of Graham’s video, so I may yet find out) However, what I did of course was perform an online search. The second returned result immediately attracted my attention: ‘Writing live fieldnotes: towards a more open system’. Written by Tricia Wang, whose work I’ve come across before (but can’t find the post at the moment!), there was much here to think about in terms of how to go about making field notes, together with illustrations taken from a live situation. As I read through the post and viewed photo after photo that Tricia took as part of the field notes, I began to ponder the ethical issues. (Another area that’s been at the forefront of my mind recently. A blog post, or two, will follow). I wondered whether Tricia had made a submission to an ethical review board, as I’m about to do. Maybe she had some advice to offer, so I thought to perhaps ask a question through the comments. I scrolled down to the foot of the post only to find Sam Ladner had already beaten me to it. Tricia only briefly referred to consent in her post, so we perhaps didn’t have the full picture, but like Sam I too wondered about longevity and persistence and what happens if those captured in the images subsequently withdraw consent, as they’re entitled to do. Who is to say that the images won’t migrate elsewhere, beyond the confines of the research project; I’m pretty sure that a standard consent form wouldn’t legislate for that. However, I ought really to get to the point made in the title. In reply to Sam’s comment on ethics was no other than Tom Boellstorff, author of a book I’m reading right at this moment – ‘Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method.’ AND replying to Tom was Annette Markham, an incredibly important author in the field of online ethnography and someone who has a more than passing interest in the ethical issues of online research.
I still never cease to be amazed at the ways in which we are interconnected by and through the Internet.