Monday, May 4, 2009

Getting Back On(Off) the Wagon

Okay, okay. I know, if I'm going to maintain a blog of any respectability, I need to post with some regularity...more than once a year, anyhow. In the interest of achieving that goal, and also as a way to get me to begin to formulate some of my thoughts about my dissertation project, I'm going to begin to share some thoughts about my research (we'll see how long this lasts - hopefully at least 4 weeks).

I've been going to hear jazz performances quite often here in NYC since the middle of January. More and more, I find myself going to performances of - call it what you will - "free jazz" "avant garde jazz" "out jazz" "creative music" "experimental jazz". This has been a large part of my ethnographic fieldwork so far. (If you're thinking, "Wow...what difficult work" with a wry grin on your face, you are not alone.) My most regular hangout has been the Local 269 - a bar on E Houston St, a bit west of Avenue B. They're hosting a weekly Monday-night session organized by RUCMA (Rise Up Creative Music and Arts) that often features stalwart NYC free players (check out the schedule here: http://rucma.org/ ). I'm finding some ethnographic "gold" here - a group of regular audience members (including musicians) who convene here, and who know one another.

I've also been trying to figure, as I go along, what the hell fieldwork is. I try to take notes (in my not-so-slick little maroon-covered notepad, with part of its price sticker still left on, due to my laziness and unwillingness to completely scrub the sticker off), but I constantly wonder if what I'm writing down will help me write up good fieldnotes, and if those fieldnotes will be at all usable when I start trying to write dissertation chapters. I'm also constantly plagued by feelings of self-consciousness about the presence of the notepad itself ("Are people looking at what I'm writing? Did I offend that guy sitting near me by glossing him as 'mid-age, white male - nodding head vigorously'? Are those even worthwhile observations for me, the researcher?" Thankfully, the following book tells me I'm not alone in these feelings: http://www.amazon.com/Improvising-Theory-Temporality-Ethnographic-Fieldwork/dp/0226100316/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1241461345&sr=1-1
This is a kind of "chicken soup for the ethnographer's soul." It presents an email correspondence between a grad student "in the field" and one of her committee members back at the university. They talk about things like: feeling awkward when talking to informants, doubting that you're actually finding anything out, feeling stupid when you realize that your original questions and research plans are turning out to be beside the point, etc. I recommend it (as my advisor did for me) to anyone who's about to set out on ethnographic fieldwork.

3 comments:

MAN said...

Welcome back to the (cyber) world.

Brooke said...

Oh crud! I wish I had read this before I made this for you. http://tiny.cc/7WUzx

Matthew said...

Actually, maybe I could scale down that image and put it on the cover of my notepad. Ambiguity of meaning piles up - am I judging other people? I am judging myself? Is the statue judging me? Is the statue judging other people?