Ten days in the life of an anthropologist on fieldwork.

As an anthropologist of internet culture, I am often asked if all I do is sit in an air-conditioned room and surf the web all day.

Is this true?

In the crudest sense, that is exactly what I do some of the time in a bid to understand an internet phenomenon as thoroughly as I can. This may involve archival research where I trace and corroborate the history of a phenomenon by tracing backlinks and networked content as best as I can; web archaeology where I uncover the anatomy and taxonomy of a phenomenon by piecing together the digital estates and figures that hold it together; participant observation where I witness and emulate the practices of the users I am studying and perform as a member of the group; and surveys and interviews where I reach out to users on the internet and attempt to stimulate conversational exchanges to learn about what they do.

However, because of my personal interests, the types of questions I want to answer, and how I like to interact with people, I usually complement my digital ethnography with the more traditional anthropological practices of participant observation and personal interviews.

This means that I often meet with the producers, consumers, and intermediaries of internet culture in the flesh to understand firsthand what they do on the internet and how they do it. Some times, this work entails a period of physical embedment or immersion, in which I spend prolonged periods of time among the people I want to study, observing, learning, networking, performing, and participating in their social circles and networks in order to experience a snippet of their lives.

This month marks my return to such physical, fleshy, analogue, “in real life” fieldwork. During this stretch I focus on four main projects in Singapore, on the Influencer industry, Coupling, Folklore, and Punk culture. As an experiment, I spend the first ten days conspicuously cataloguing my fieldwork schedule. Here is ten days in the life of an anthropologist on fieldwork.

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Day 01

Today is my fieldwork prep day. I spend most of it refreshing my memory on the background of my informants and formulating specific questions for each of them. I also contact them to confirm our appointments and try to secure more interviews via snowball sampling.

1330hrs: Admin.

1600hrs: Interview with an informant (Project Influencers).

2100hrs: Admin.

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Day 02

0900hrs: Admin.

1000hrs: Grant meeting with a group of academics.

1200hrs: Lunch catch-up with a friend cum gatekeeper (Project Influencers).

1400hrs: Interviews with a string of informants (Project Punk).

1600hrs: Interview with an informant (Project Influencers).

1800hrs: Informant was a no show.

2100hrs: Phone interview with an informant (Project Punk).

2200hrs: Admin.

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Day 03

0900hrs: Skype mentoring session with a student.

1000hrs: Informant was a no show.

1230hrs: Lunch interview with an informant (Project Coupling).

1400hrs: Brief interviews with a string of people (Project Coupling, Project Folklore) and fieldsite survey (Project Coupling, Project Folklore).

1430hrs: Phone interview with an informant (Project Folklore).

1600hrs: Participant observation in a fieldsite (Project Folklore).

1800hrs: Dinner interview with informants (Project Folklore).

2200hrs: Admin.

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Day 04

1100hrs: Thesis Defence with my student/mentee.

1300hrs: Admin.

1400hrs: Grant meeting with a group of academics.

2000hrs: Informant was a no show.

2130hrs: Phone interview with an informant (Project Folklore).

2200hrs: Admin.

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Day 05

0830hrs: Admin.

0930hrs: Interview with an informant (Project Influencers).

1200hrs: Catch-up with a former informant (Project Influencers).

1430hrs: Lunch interview with an informant (Project Folklore).

1900hrs: Admin.

2300hrs: Flight out to fieldsite (Project Influencers).

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Day 06

Today I am at an overseas fieldsite. Things move slowly in the morning with a bit of R&R.

1400hrs: Participant observation at fieldsite (Project Influencers).

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Day 07

Today is my rest day. I unwind from 7hrs of intense note-taking and observation from the night before with R&R in the morning. It’s nice to be able to roam around a new city. I guess this is some sort of academic tourism.

1605hrs: Flight back from fieldsite (Project Influencers).

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Day 08

0930hrs: Admin.

1030hrs: Interview with an informant (Project Influencers).

1300hrs: Interview with an informant (Project Punk).

1530hrs: Informant was a no show.

1630hrs: Admin.

1730hrs: Fieldsite survey (Project Punk).

1800hrs: Interview with an informant (Project Punk).

2100hrs: Phone interview with an informant (Project Folklore).

2230hrs: Admin.

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Day 09

Today I am losing the steam to catalogue my fieldwork in pictures.

0900hrs: Admin.

1030hrs: Phone interview with an informant (Project Folklore).

1200hrs: Lunch interview with an informant (Project Influencers).

1330hrs: Project meeting (Project Punk).

1730hrs: Admin.

2100hrs: Interview with an informant (Project Punk).

2300hrs: Admin.

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Day 10

I am jotting down the plans for Day 10 in advance. This cataloguing is beginning to feel like a chore so I bring this experiment to a close. I am rather fond of posting images on my private Instagram account, which I use as a diary. But the burden of constant content production is watering down my enjoyment.

I intend to spend Day 10 unwinding from this mad stint of fieldwork and will use the next week to consolidate my data collection and start on some transcriptions. After that, I’ll dive into another ten-day stretch of intense fieldwork. Wish me luck!

1100hrs: Phone interview with a gatekeeper (Project Influencers).

[laze around, vegetate, and potato my day away]

2030hrs: Phone interview with an informant (Project Folklore).

2100hrs: Phone interview with an informant (Project Folklore).

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to sleep for one hundred hours.

2 thoughts on “Ten days in the life of an anthropologist on fieldwork.

  1. Thank you for this. Lovely stuff. The description of your work is not exactly ethnographic ha ha. And buddying anthropologyistd should also be ready for the other side of the coin – long periods when “nothing” happens and you fill your notebook with doodles
    ..

    Like

    1. Dear David,

      I did state that I was listing “my fieldwork schedule”, and like I said, my digital ethnographic methods comprise archival research, web archaeology, participant observation, and surveys and interviews. What this post catalogues is my physical field interview schedule. If you’re so inclined, here are some ethnographic descriptions of my work https://wishcrys.com/tag/fieldnotes/ Nevertheless, thanks for mansplaining ethnographic fieldwork to me, a “buddying anthropologist”.

      Like

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