Welcome to my companion website for Watching Closely: A Guide to Ethnographic Observation with Oxford University Press. This website features a collection of sample reports and field notes for each of the exercises in the book, along with a brief introduction designed to draw your attention to specific aspects of a given response.
For each exercise, I have selected between five and ten responses produced by previous students from the course on which this book is based. Each student gave me permission to share their work in this way, in order to encourage others to try their hands at this challenging way of working. I think these examples not only show how lucky I have been to work with such talented and fearless researchers, but also how remarkably creative and rigorous we should all strive to be when it comes to fieldwork.
Like the broader population of students with whom I’ve worked over the years, the authors of these sample reports have wonderfully diverse backgrounds. Some had previous experience with fieldwork, some did not. Some were wordsmiths by training, some were expert in the visual arts. About half were raised in the U.S. and about half in other, non-English-speaking countries. Most of these students were studying to be designers or architects, but many also had degrees in the social and behavioral sciences as well as the performing and fine arts. In one respect they were quite homogenous, though: almost none of them had experience studying any primates other than humans.
For all these reasons, mistakes abound in these homework assignments. None of these mistakes matter, however. Each report you see here has been selected because it beautifully exemplifies exactly what I hope readers will focus on in these exercises: process, effort, and the rich possibilities of communicative forms that await us.
My curatorial efforts are designed to show elements that are common in students’ responses as well as those that are truly unique and innovative. The samples are arranged so that they build on each other, generally but not always -- starting with the simplest, cleanest, and most straight-forward of these exemplary responses and ending with those that are more complex, visual, and time-intensive.
I certainly hope these examples will fuel rather than limit your own imagination. As I say in Watching Closely, the best way to use the material on this website is after you have already tried a specific exercise yourself. Give yourself a fair chance to do what makes sense to you, personally, before you allow yourself to see what others have done.
I owe an enormous debt to all the students who took this class with me over the years, but especially to the students whose path-breaking work appears here. They have been most generous in allowing others to see their efforts, warts and all, so that we can all be inspired to do this kind of work. This is how we learn, this is how science happens, and this is one way in which we can help ethnography morph and move into the 21st century.
June 1, 2015