I woke up in the middle of the night today because I was so psyched about my work that I just couldn’t sleep any more but had to immediately write down the ideas that I had, and ended up writing a solid page of new stuff on the article I’m working on at the moment. Surely that’s a good sign of being on the right career path, yes?
Anyway, I have just returned from a week-long field trip to the Mediterranean climbing destination of Geyikbayiri. I had a wonderful time there. I did and saw lots of quality climbing, got in a couple of nice trail runs on the Lycian Way hiking trail, and one day ran the 20 kms one way to Antalya and back where, in between runs, I had a nice lunch, swam in the sea, and just hung out at the beach for a couple of hours.
And, I also took field notes every day for the ethnographic part of my dissertation, and also managed to read an excellent and thought-provoking book that we then discussed in our Culture and the Environment class, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things by Jane Bennett. Fascinating stuff on a new discourse that seriously challenges the old ways of seeing matter as inert and dead and only bestowing agency on humans.
As I’ve been saying for a while, I should at some point discuss how exactly I conduct the ethnography part (and article) of my thesis. So, here I will initiate that discussion (or, actually continue it since I have discussed parts of it previously in the blog). I don’t have all of my source books, etc. with me here in Turkey, so I won’t be going too much into the theoretical frameworks of doing ethnography but will instead offer a practical, commonsense type of explanation of what it actually is that I’m doing. This might be a bit long-winded if you don’t happen to be super interested in the topic but I did put some nice pics from this year’s “ethnographic trips” (Thorpe 2010) in here as well if you just want to check them out.
Pic from this year’s Abisko Ice Climbing Festival in Arctic Sweden.
So, in a nutshell: After finishing the articles for the part of my dissertation where I discuss various representations of male mountain athletes’ relationships to the environment, I will compliment them with an ethnographic article (or two) where I won’t anymore be studying representations but will instead seek opinions directly from the athletes themselves. This will include both face-to-face interaction and a planned online questionnaire.
Initially my plan was to conduct life-history type interviews but my own reflection on the method as well as discussions with my supervisor convinced me that a better approach would be to use the type of methodology that, for example Robinson (2008) and Thorpe (2010) have previously used, i.e. combine unstructured, “informal conversational interviews” (Wells 2011) with other ethnographic methods such as participant observation and observant participation (or POOP as I like to abbreviate the method).
Pic from the start of this year’s TransGranCanaria 125 K mountain running race in the Spanish Canary Islands, just off the coast of Africa.
I could go on and on about the various methodologies and their associated benefits and drawbacks but in order to keep this post even remotely manageable in length I’ll just introduce a couple of viewpoints from previous scholars that I consider to be important, and I’ll totally leave out some major influences like Wacquant and Bourdieu maybe to be discussed later.
Brownell (2006) recognized how “sport ethnography usually starts with a person who has some degree of expertise in a sport”, and how “the [sports] anthropologist is as much a ‘player’ in the game as everyone else. She has a stake in the outcome, and the other players have a stake in her performance [cf. Monaghan’s and Wacquant’s bodily capital]” and she may thus be considered to differ from ‘regular’ fieldworkers who reflect from the outside in, not from the inside out.
Pic from the start of this year’s Narvik Rando ski mountaineering race in Arctic Norway. There are actually some serious, world class athletes gathered in this picture.
I think that these are important considerations. They also present the ethnographer with some ethical dilemmas that must be solved. For example, meeting the informants: What do I do when I meet them? They don’t know who I am, so should I just always start the conversation with introducing myself and my research project, and essentially saying that I’m here to study YOU? Now, that’s definitely something I could do, but how natural would that be? How would it affect the potential informant? From a purely research-ethical viewpoint this would be fine but, personally, I think it would seriously hamper my research, both in terms of gaining access to other informants and also by potentially skewing the informants’ answers (i.e. my data) and thus nullify the entire project.
A second option would of course be to hide my researcher identity and just “lurk” (Hine 2010) and try to get data that way. Basically, since all of my informants will anyway be anonymous, this wouldn’t from a research-ethical standpoint be as bad as it sounds. It’s far from ideal, however, and I have decided not to use this approach. Also, since I do actually do some “real” interviews, hiding my researcher identity would then of course be impossible. The most important objection that I have towards this kind of approach, however, is that I just think that it would kind of make me a douche. And no-one wants to be that. I can better understand that kind of approach when doing research, for example, in the criminal world, but since all these climbers, runners, and skiers that I hang out with actually are very nice people, and several of them I have come to consider my friends, I prefer not to act like that.
A t-shirt I bought at the JoSiTo climbers’ camp in Geyikbayiri, and a real-life illustration of mining operations in the nearby area. There are commercial mining interests in the area but for now, the grassroots protesters have won the battle and the climbing areas at least are currently off limits for mining companies. The situation in Turkey being what it is, there are no guarantees, however, that this will remain so. Fingers crossed.
The way that I have mostly gone about it is that, while never opening a conversation with a long tirade on my research project, I have never either tried to hide what I do. Mostly the topic has come up rather naturally during normal conversation, and so far the reception from the informants’ side has been unequivocally positive.
Even though most people I’ve done this research with have a general idea of me being a researcher interested in mountain athletes, I have a couple of times failed to fully disclose what exactly it is that I do but in those cases I have decided to not use that data as key information pieces in my study. And, always when I have come across situations where I’d like to directly quote someone, I have always asked for permission from them to do so.
However, some of the people who have shared experiences with me may still not know about the specifics of my project, even though they have at least indirectly contributed to it. This is something that I’d like to rectify, and I’m thinking that if I end up using any of the data that they have helped produce, I should contact them and let them know. This even though I’m 99 % sure that no-one would actually object to anything, and even though the informants are 100 % anonymous.
A typical campfire scene the morning after. There were some good discussions had here.
I am still a little torn whether this method and ethical guideline that I’ve been following is sufficient but it’s the best that I’ve come up with. I am open to suggestions for improvements. One of the reasons for this blog is that I can write here relatively unfiltered thoughts that then also help me to organize my own thought process and hopefully refine all this into cogent arguments in actual academic papers later on.
Anyway, I was originally thinking about separating the POOP article and the virtual ethnography into two articles but I’m now considering combining them into one. This would enable me to test a method that I’ve been developing, i.e. to construct the article in such a way that the viewpoints acquired during POOP (the method, not sitting on the toilet) would be formulated into a set of hypotheses, and these hypotheses could then be tested with quantifiable statistical data acquired from the virtual ethnography.
I’m not sure how clear that actually sounds but I do have a fairly clear idea of it in my head, and parts of it already written down. If this sounds like a lot to stuff into a single article, that’s because it is. However, there is nothing stopping me from using this same data set in future research, too. It’s quite common that when researchers have spent a lot of time and effort in getting a good data set that interests the research community, they may then continue mining that for additional articles that may approach the data from a different viewpoint and focus on different aspects of it.
A cluster of pics showing the conditions for both work and play at Geyikbayiri. I had a superb time, and will definitely go back.
So, I’ve probably forgotten to include lots of important stuff here (apologies for that, please do comment if you want to add something) but this post is already long enough.
Thanks for reading. I’ll now get ready for one more trip: I’ll spend a long weekend participating in a trail/mountain running race in the Aegean coast. When I’ll come back from the trip I’ll only have three short weeks left of my exchange. Time does fly. Hoşçakal!
Brownell, Susan (2006). “Sport Ethnography: A Personal Account.” In The SAGE handbook of Fieldwork. Eds. Dick Hobbs and Richard Wright. London, SAGE. 243–254.
Hine, Christine (2008). “Virtual Ethnography: Modes, Varieties, Affordances.” In The Sage Handbook of Online Research Methods. Eds. Nigel Fielding, Raymond M. Lee and Grant Blank. London, Sage. 257–270.
Robinson, Victoria (2008). Everyday Masculinities and Extreme Sport. Male Identity and Rock Climbing. Oxford and New York: Berg.
Thorpe, Holly (2010). ”Bourdieu, Gender Reflexivity, and Physical Culture: A Case of Masculinities in the Snowboarding Field”. In Journal of Sport & Social Issues. Volume 34, Number 2. 176–214.
Wells, Kathleen (2011). Narrative Inquiry. New York, Oxford University Press. McCall, George J. (2006). “The Fieldwork Tradition.” In The SAGE handbook of Fieldwork. Eds. Dick Hobbs and Richard Wright. London, SAGE. 3–21.
Featured image (not visible in mobile theme) credit by pngall.com and wikipedia. I feel like these movie references have now outlived their comedic effect (if they ever had one) so this might actually be the last one of those.