Rediscovering writing

Its no coincidence that I started this blog around the same time as I started fieldwork this fall.  There's a profound meditative quality to developing a thought through iterations of text. I'm referring to memo writing, an important aspect of qualitative research methods.

I am quite good at maintaining discipline among my numbers. All my quantitative data, be it from a research project or personal logs, are well organized. My folder structure is orderly, my paths consistent, my code annotated and clean. Read JP Ferguson's post on this for inspiration if you want to do this as well. However, the idea of discipline among my words is new to me.

Which is why I so glad Samer insists on disciplined memoing to accompany fieldwork. For each observation session, I take field notes, always by hand (delike alpha with a fude nib with iroshizuku shin ryoku ink on 80gsm paper notebooks). I then type out my field notes into a word doc in a secure cloud drive to which Samer has access. This addds a layer of clarity as my field notes are written live while my transcription has the benefit of retrospection. Soon after, I write a descriptive memo based on my field notes. This decriptive memo differs from field notes that it is in prose, rather than bulletform or diagramform as my notes are. As far as possible I avoid abstraction, focusing instead on constructing a narrative, which is selective by definition. Next is the analytical memo, in which I attempt at abstraction, but only from the description, and not to theory. At this stage I attempt to form concepts or isolate practices, and assess for patterns. Finally comes the theoretical memo where I attempt to connect my abstraction to existing theory. In some ways this last step is both the most fun and the least consequential, as I will iterate through stances and frameworks in an attempt to find a spark.

When I took Charlotte Cloutier's excellent qualitative methods class this past summer, because of the necessary speed of collecting data AND writing a paper within a semester, I did not adopt this interative process, instead using drafts of my term paper as a locus of iteration, going directly from raw data to theorizing with minimal memo'ing in between. A mistake, in retrospect, I can see it now. And of course it was. What was I thinking, treating this incredibly important aspect of research rigor as mere rigmarole. Not only does it make for more legitimate theory, in the sense of creating chains of evidence, it acutally makes for stronger theory. Which should be obvious, there's a reason why brilliant methods scholars like Strauss and Langley recommend method such as these. Once again, I forget, all these accolades aren't just window dressing. Respect the chair, dumbass

There's something mesmerising about textual objects that draws me toward them. The power that they have, at key moments, to shape entire organizations and societies, is incredible, something akin to divinity. Its no surprise that for most of human history, the only texts that most people likely had access to or even were aware of, were religious dogma.

More to follow on this thread, especially as I take Saku Mantere's qualitative methods class this coming winter.