The Fieldnotes Ecosystem of #RoR2018

The Fieldnotes Ecosystem of #RoR2018

A young man reads something on his phone.
May our faces be warmed by the light of our mobile devices. (Photo: Dick Powis)

Early on in college, I took a lot of inspiration from John Hawks’ article calling for researchers to be transparent and engaging with their research in combination with Tricia Wang’s article outlining “open ethnography.” To me, Wang’s methodology was an answer to Hawks’ call. Somehow, I would have to navigate ethics review boards which weren’t at all familiar with using social media to disseminate information – and I did (which is a blog post for another time). Later, Samuel Collins and Matt Durington’s work helped me to refine my multimodal workflow, and with Harjant Gill’s help I was able to articulate my mission. As I’ve written there, here, and elsewhere, the overarching goal of publishing data in near-real-time across multiple platforms is to engage multiple audiences, i.e. my home public, a social media savvy Senegalese public, and academic scholars worldwide. Each entry written on a particular social network for a particular audience paints a larger picture when taken as a whole. Conversations with Kate Schneider, Matika Wilbur, and Jeffery Schonberg gave spirit to the ethical relationship between my photography and my photographic collaborators, extending as a fine analog to the relationship between the research and the research participants. I’ve played with some of these multimodal methods in the last five years and I’m about to begin the 12 months of my dissertation fieldwork, so I think it’s important for me to outline the vision of my open ethnography.

This is the ecosystem of my live fieldnotes.

  • Facebook: Short texts, personal musings, and conversations about life and research, but also things that have nothing at all to do with research or Senegal. (Access to this account is limited.)
  • Twitter (@dtpowis): Shortest texts and multilingual musings reaching the widest audience. While my home public looks on, this is the social media where I’m mostly like to engage with Senegalese interlocutors.
  • Instagram (@dtpowis3): Snapshots of selfies, food, books, notes, Post-It Notes, mind maps, sketches, and other kinds of ethnographic marginalia.
  • Instagram (@dickpowis): Street and portrait photography captured with digital or film cameras. (Yes, I am lugging darkroom equipment and chemistry to Dakar.)
  • Anthrodendum: Long texts about my experiences preparing for and engaging in life and dissertation research (if there is a difference). I’ll use this space to fuse together the smaller components from other social media accounts and fieldnotes and talk about emergent themes. The subreddit r/Anthropology can sometimes serve as an extended comments section to discuss the content of my blog posts, because I’m doing that now since that I’ve had a change of heart.

I’m avoiding YouTube because I know too much about video editing and the time and effort required for that kind of project would completely consume the research project that I am there to do. (Data is very expensive, as well.) I won’t employ Snapchat in this ecosystem because I would like my notes to have some permanence. All materials will be united across all platforms with the hashtag #RoR2018 (i.e. Relations of Reproduction 2018). Am I missing anything? Is there anything else I should consider?

Dick Powis is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, and is also pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. His research interests include men and childbirth, prenatal screening technologies, and reproductive health in urban settings in Senegal. Read more at dickpowis.com.