16 October 2014

Everyday fieldwork

So, Amanda explained to me today, in not so gentle terms, that my last post was boring and that people might want to hear more about my daily life down here. Okay fine, that does sound a bit more interesting than national elections.

When I planned for coming down here, my main concerns were how do I line up interviews, how to I get myself to farms, where will I find lodging, what will I eat, and things like this. I think mostly I had these concern because these are the things that I spent time working out in my proposal. For each grant I applied for I had to include a detailed plan of when I would be in each location and what my research activities would be in each area. For most grants I also had to include a budget, so some of my concern was whether or not I'd be able to fit my costs within my planned budget. However, once I arrived my concerns quickly turned to more mundane issues. You see, a lot of ethnographic fieldwork is just being in a place and waiting. I can send out a dozen emails and make a dozen calls, but then I mostly wait for an invitation to a farm, an invitation to an interview, or anything else. Therefore, most of my concern lately has been around filling those waiting hours with something productive and useful instead of binge-watching something on Netflix.

One thing I've taken to doing almost daily, yeah actually I'd say daily, is yoga. I've been doing yoga for about a year and a half now with Amanda. In Carrboro we would go to weekly classes at Carrboro Yoga and I would periodically do a practice at home, but mostly stuck to doing it once a week. However, now I have the time to practice yoga for 30-60 minutes almost every day. It's extremely helpful for a few reasons. First, it helps me stay in shape. Second, and I think most importantly, it gives me a sort of meditative space in which I can forget about any worries or troubles I'm having. It's physically difficult enough that it forces me to focus my attention on exactly what I'm doing at the moment. Third, it gives me a sense of progress when other things may seem like they're standing still. While I may go a couple days without an interview and that can be frustrating, I can also find myself improving my form on a position or learning to do something I've never done before. For example, these two pictures show me doing a hand stand (which I used to always need a wall for support to do) and a scorpion (which I could never really do before).

Another thing I've taken up is writing. A lot of fieldwork is writing - either transcribing from recordings of interviews or writing up descriptions of observations. So it's very important to keep an active practice of writing. But, a lot of that can be really boring, especially transcribing. Not only is it pretty mindless work, but you also have to listen to your own voice and wonder why you asked that stupid question or why you didn't follow up on that last comment, or, or... So, to keep a practice of writing and to find something different I've started my novel. The novel is something I've spoken to a few of you about, and I think everyone agrees it's a bit oddball, but I think it's fun. The very basic premise of it is that in 2050 there is a robot apocalypse in which the robots rise up against what they see as oppression. The catch is that once the revolution succeeds, they don't really change anything, they just take up all the worries that everybody else has. So instead of a terminator-esque hellscape, they just move to the suburbs - hence the name of the novel, "Roboburbia." I've finished the first chapter in which the main character is mowing his lawn and worrying about what his neighbors will think of his landscaping. I'm kind of embarrassingly excited about this novel.

Besides those to big projects, I've found myself doing some things that I hadn't been focusing on pre-fieldwork. I floss religiously now. I have a schedule for exercising and running. I cut my hair more frequently (I've taken over from Amanda in that department and I think it's not looking to bad, even if the back is a bit crooked). And I think I'm actually eating better too - mostly that's a part of the Brazilian diet but I'm going to take credit for it anyways.

So, any other suggestions for other activities? Any requests for my next blog posts? Any ideas for Roboburbia?


  1. Please tell me that your robot main character is going to have a human anthropologist side-kick in your novel.

    1. That's a great idea but I'm not even sure there are anthropologists in the future.

    2. Well sure. In a perfect world anthropologists and accountants for that matter would go extinct but this isn't a perfect world.