Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Blogging and Writing

I just posted a discussion message to a Facebook group called “Ethnomusicology of Ourselves” which is about doing ethnographic research on topics and in places that are close to home, or that are home. Here is a portion of my post:

This is a nice discussion. As I'm finishing up my fieldwork in the next two months, I have been thinking about how I have had to completely reconfigure my notions of what fieldwork is supposed to look like. I have had to get beyond the image of a single fieldworker going somewhere else and doing fieldwork all the time for a year. For the first little while, I was plagued by insecurities about whether or not I was actually "doing" this right! I'm here with a family of five and homeschooling my boys. I did not receive a grant (still trying :)) so I ended up working full time about 6 months into my time here while James stays at home full time with our boys. I finally realized that I know what I am doing, I know what I want to get out of this research, and I sort of know how to get it, so I just had to embrace my reality and reinvent my own process to suit my situation. It has worked out wonderfully. There are so many diverse models for ethnographic research, it is really interesting to me to hear/read about other scholars field experiences.

So posting the link to my blog to fellow ethnomusicologists got me thinking about the audience for my blog, again. I don’t know of any ethnomusicologists or scholars who regularly read my blog. As far as I know, most of my readers are DJs, music critics, and fans/listeners. The current post on my blog when I posted this message to the Facebook group was “Welcome to the jungle…” and its partly about people wondering why I am here, and wondering if I’m trying to transcend my racial and ethnic identity and become Black. There’s a bit of sarcasm in the post and if I was successful (I still can’t tell), then it’s a bit humorous as well. I was not thinking of any kind of academic audience when I wrote this post, and I haven’t had that audience in my mind for my blog for a long time. There is a small readership for the blog, but one that I really appreciate. DJ WhoDat reads it, and we talk about it regularly. And since that last post about race and my own identity, she often teases me about how I really do want to be Black. I even brought over the wrong kind of beer one night – beer that was on sale because Black people don’t buy it…(that’s just a paraphrase of WhoDat’s words!) From my sitemeter I can tell that some other people in the Detroit Metro area read it, my brother sometimes reads it in Chicago, there are a few music bloggers/writers outside of Detroit who read it; I get some international readers, but I don’t think I’ve got many, or any, academic/ethno folks reading it. So my posts tend to be geared towards descriptions of what I am doing and learning here, I strive for a bit of humor and lightheartedness. There are some analytical, sort of academic posts here, but most of the time, my writing is more informal because that’s what I think suits this type of blog. It’s also one place in which I can flush out ideas and explore things in writing that are not yet solidified ideas in my head. So after I posted the link to the Facebook discussion, I started to feel a bit apprehensive and insecure about fellow scholars reading my blog. That’s okay though, I think I’ll keep going with what I’m doing, exploring my ideas in an open, honest way. I’m trying to make sure that I maintain a certain openness and flexibility, because otherwise I’ll get bogged down with strict ideas of what I’m supposed to be doing and will feel stuck because I just don’t fit into the standard story of what fieldwork is supposed to be, for a variety of reasons. That’s what I sometimes feel like I’m doing here – making up my own rules, because there is not a step-by-step manual for field research. There are some published works that present ethnographic models, and some scholars include detailed descriptions of their own experiences doing field research, including mistakes they made, their research models, approaches to interviewing, etc. Daniel Reed, an ethnomusicologist who researched Dan Ge performance in Cote d’Ivoire included excellent descriptions of his field experiences in his book, Dan Ge Performance: Masks and Music in Contemporary Côte d'Ivoire. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003. Awesome, awesome, awesome book!

I feel like I’m making up rules as I go along, but actually, not really rules, because that connotes rigidity, and I’m not really following a rigid format full of rules (does anyone?). But I feel like I have been creating and developing my own approach to this experience and this research because having a family, not securing any funding, and working full time have a huge impact on the typical ethnographic research model. I am so thankful to have accomplished so much with the Roots of Techno conference in Oct. 2006 so that I could really just delve in to Detroit already knowing people, already having some research completed, and having a strong foundation from which to begin when I came here in Feb. 2008.

Following that discussion on Facebook, there was another discussion topic on that same group, “Ethnomusicology of Ourselves,” that specifically addressed blogging as a tool for communication in ethnographic research. Here is my post to that discussion:

I was just writing fieldnotes about this issue last week! I think the act of blogging, for my research at least, has been a wonderful way to involve some of the people who are participants in my research in the actual process of writing and analyzing experiences and ideas. For me the feedback loop is very positive. (The feedback loop was an issue brought up in a previous post in which the writer was referring to the cyclical process of learning information from people who participate in our research, writing it and publishing it in a public online forum, and the impact that the public representation of field experiences will have on the cultures/communities/people we are working with as well as its impact on our research.) It also feels honest to me to be able to responsibly present my own ideas to my research participants. I think the concept of "feedback" in general, as do many ethnomusicologists, is important to contemporary ethnographic research, in the form of feedback interviews, co-authoring of academic writing, etc.

In response to the concern with our impact as ethnographers, varying degrees of impact is unavoidable. If we operate from the perspective and understanding that culture is contingent and is constantly being negotiated and renegotiated, then our role as ethnographers can be understood within this complex of cultural change. I do not intend to diminish or ignore the actual impact that I am having as I conduct this research, however, whatever participatory activities that I engage in have tremendous impact, from interviewing, photographing, videotaping, sharing my recordings with participants who are present in those recordings, participating at performance events, learning to play, contributing my own assistance to events through volunteer work, etc. I see the act of presenting a portion of my research, primarily through descriptions of my fieldwork experiences, as yet another way that I am having an impact and engaging in a feedback loop.

I think that is a really important to be aware of these issues. Our impact as fieldworkers is quite large, and no matter what we do, we will have an impact. Our mere presence adds power and value to whatever it is we are researching – many people are still surprised to learn that I moved with my whole family to Detroit, not for a job or any financial gains, but to learn about something. That, I believe, has had a tremendous impact. My microphone and recorder have an impact, my video camera has an impact – one of the DJs I videotaped seemed super self-conscious and kept making excuses for why the set wasn’t going well for him and why the crowd wasn’t what he thought it should be. He did give me permission to video tape him, but I felt bad that the camera’s presence had a negative impact in that situation. It’s difficult to video tape DJs performing because their spaces are so tight and it is usually impossible to get any footage from afar that would be useful because I usually cannot see their hands and their equipment from the dance floor. So if you’re still reading this long post, then thanks! Next post I’ll let you in on some of the interviews I’ve been doing and some of the places I’ve been going to…


musicalchef said...

Nice blog! It sounds like you're having a lot of fun there!


Andrew said...

Nice blog to know about..

Thank you very much...
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