Pat Thompson has written a fascinating post reflecting on her use of blogging to record field notes during an ethnographic project at the Tate summer school. She stresses the ethical challenges of such an activity – particularly the need to negotiate consent with participants, including around photos, as well as the need for a framework for naming and recognition of potential harms – but argues that blogging in this context can provide a really useful ‘audit trail’: a record of what was done and in what order.
She makes a compelling case that the resulting posts offer many advantages compared to more traditional ways of recording field notes: it’s easier to discipline yourself to do the blog post, it’s easier to link out in ways susceptible to following up later and the need to make the posts accessible and interesting (e.g. not too long) necessitates editing/filtering which itself requires valuable evaluation of the events of the day. What I found most interesting though were the advantages this can have in terms of building connections, within and beyond the fieldwork site:
(5) participants and research partners like to read the posts each day too. It not only works for you but also works for them as a record of what’s gone on and what resources, people, organisations and “stuff” they used – so they can follow these up too.
(6) participants know more about what you’re doing. We all read our institutional ethics forms about checking with participants and keeping them informed, but this is often not taken very seriously IMHO. A daily post goes a little way to telling people what youre doing, and…
(7) a post can lead to good conversations with participants. if something is online, people can read it and then – tell you’ve got something wrong, or disagree with you, or discuss something further or tell you what they think. If your notes are locked away in your notebook, then this kind of responsive conversation is less easy to begin.
(8) the telling of the events as they’ve just happened has “live-ness” which is often missing from accounts which are heavily processed long after the event has happened (see “Live methods” by Les Back and Nirmal Puwar)
(9) blog readers may get some ideas of their own from reading about your work (I’ve just been contacted by one of my colleagues who is going to play with GIFs and zines on the back of yesterday’s post.)
This is a wonderful example of what I’ve tried to write about in the past as ‘continuous publishing’: the advantages that can accrue from doing work in the open that once would have been done in private. Getting the ideas out there in this way, making them public, means they begin to act instantaneously – in this case, in a way that feeds back upon the process that is being documented through blogging.