crap detection and blogging

I’ve got an inbuilt fondness for the encyclopaedia. As a child from a family with a pretty modest income, but one which valued books, Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia took pride of place on the bookshelf. Whether there was a school project, a trip to the museum, a holiday or a family argument, one of the encyclopaedia volumes was sure to help. It’s hardly surprising then that I’m a Wikipedia fan. At the start of its existence Wikipedia was tantamount to vanity publishing and anyone who wanted could put up blatantly flattering pieces about themselves. But it has grown to be more genuinely encyclopaedic.

I regularly go to Wikipedia. I come across something I can vaguely remember or I haven’t heard of at all, and Wikipedia provides a bit of a definition, a snippet of a history and a few clues about where to follow up. This is generally enough for me to decide whether I want to pursue whatever-I’m-looking-for or whether it’s a not-what-I’m-looking-for. Wikipedia kicks off a process, or gives me enough information to stop bothering.

I’m far from the only one. The eminent Prof William Cronon, President of the American Historians Association also also advocates its use.

Wikipedia is today the gateway through which millions of people now seek access to knowledge which not long ago was only available using tools constructed and maintained by professional scholars. Whatever the reference tools we consulted—dictionaries, almanacs, encyclopedias, books of quotations, finding aids, bibliographies—we did so because their contents had been carefully scrutinized by professionals with appropriate scholarly training.

No longer. Wikipedia and its kin have changed all that, and those of us who inhabit the world of scholarship need to ponder the ongoing role of professional authority when traditional disciplines can no longer maintain the kind of intellectual monopolies that their members once took for granted. No one needs a PhD in a subject, or even a baccalaureate major, to contribute or modify Wikipedia entries. Although the wide-open Wiki world sometimes harbors howling errors, even outright fraud, the overall quality of Wikipedia content is remarkably good. If one’s goal is quick consultation for information one can check in other ways, or a brief orientation to an unfamiliar topic, then it’s hard to imagine a more serviceable tool than Wikipedia. I even have an app that downloads to my iPhone the entire English-language contents of the site—over four gigabytes—so I always have it at my fingertips even when I’m offline.

So Wikipedia may have actually woken the academy/us up to the need to ensure that we – and those we work with – are able to deal critically with any online information available to us. We scholars wouldn’t assume that any single source of print information was sufficient. We would always assume print sources were partial – not complete, particular, written from a point of view – and situated – written in a particular time and place. We are trained to read not only for what a source says, but also what it doesn’t say, what it might emphasize, what it might have in common with other texts and where it might differ. There is no reason that reading Wikipedia or any other online material should be any different.

I agree with Cronon’s argument. As more and more information moves on line, our scholarly critical reading processes must move too.

Blogs, just like Wikipedia, contain useful information, but none of what is written is value free or comprehensive. Blogs of course generally don’t pretend to be anything but the writer’s views, and it is perhaps the commonality of the ‘pedia’ in encylopaedia and Wikipedia that makes us think that the material is somehow above and different from any other source. But it seems pretty clear that, regardless of the scholarly source – print or digital, Wikipedia or blog – we need to be on the lookout for: the origin of the material; the currency of the information; the author, their credentials and their sources; the reliability of the material and the capacity to check what’s on offer; and the point of view or agenda through which the information has been provided.

I’m still fond of this old Howard Rheingold talk on crap detection. Riffing on Hemingway, it is aimed at people who are unfamiliar with the web and social media. However, the basic points that Rheingold makes about crap detection are pretty applicable to all of us, no matter how deep into the digital we are or whether we are or have children, or not.

Rheingold suggests that we all need to find a community of people who provide trustworthy information. And I particularly like his notion of a community of scholarly crap detectors and the kind of mutual obligation we have to be trustworthy in the information we provide. That seems pretty helpful advice for people reading and writing Wikipedia, but also for those of us who blog. It is perhaps one of the ethical principles that I/we bloggers might adopt – I will not knowingly write crap…

Also see Rheingold and Good’s very useful crap detecting tools.

Posted in crap detection, Howard Rheingold, Wikipedia, William Cronon | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

an academic writing playlist

1. A song for staring at the blank screen
2. A song for explaining to your lover why you didn’t hear what they just said
3. A song for reading reviewers’ comments
4. A song for that feeling of being really, really stupid
5. A song for pressing the submit button
6. A song to drown out the noises in the hall
7. A song to remind yourself to get off twitter now
8. A song for an impossible deadline
9. A song to soothe the savage writing
10. A song which prompts you to go sit outside
11. A song to celebrate getting the book proofs
12. A song to remind you why you became a scholar
13. A song that speaks back to administrivia
14. A song for finding a typo in the just published paper
15. A song to mark a co-author’s retirement
16. A song which encourages you to think slowly
17. A song which thanks your dog for just being there
18. A song which counts ALL the work you’ve done
19. A song for making new academic friends
20. A song for waking up at 3 am writing in your sleep

Posted in academic writing | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

the audit trail – a common omission from methods chapters

It’s really important to put an ‘audit trail’ into your methods chapter. Audit trail? Well, it doesn’t actually matter what you call it, it’s the section in the chapter where you give the examiner the nuts and bolts information about what you’ve done.

Providing an audit trail doesn’t mean you can ignore your philosophical stance and your choice of methodology. Of course you still have to write about this. But I see a lot of – read this as I see far too many – theses where that’s all people have done. There are pages and pages about epistemology and methodology and methods and nothing about what’s actually happened.

I can’t tell you exactly the number of ethnographies I’ve read – but it’s a lot – where I don’t know how many days the researcher has spent in the site, what they’ve looked at and what they were looking for, what documents they’ve collected and who they’ve formally talked to. This information partially dribbles out through the results. But if I’m not given this basic information at the start, I always approach the substantive and important results chapters with unhelpful questions and doubts in my mind. I am wondering to myself, “What’s the basis on which this description and this analysis is being made?”

BUT the consequence of leaving out the audit trail is generally greater than simply raising doubts in the examiner’s/my mind. Whenever a doctoral researcher has left out the audit trail, they are usually asked to turn around and put it in as a correction. And who needs that if it can be avoided?

The audit trail consists of two things:

(1) Information about the actual data you have generated
This is – how many people you’ve interviewed, how many days you spent in each site, how you constructed the survey, what kind of statistical approach you took, how many transcripts you are working with, how many blogs and posts, how many words in the corpus and so on. It’s the who, what, where, what kind, how long, and how many of the research. You can often do this in a table so it doesn’t take up more pages and pages.

(2) Information about how you’ve analysed the data
This might be the actual workings or it might be a sample of transcript, codes and themes and so on – whatever is appropriate for the methods you’ve chosen. This often goes somewhere other than the chapter and is referred to in the actual chapter proper.

Now the reason for providing an audit trail is not because your examiner doesn’t trust you. It’s not that your examiner wants to believe that what you’re claiming about your results is inaccurate or fudged in some way. The reason for providing an audit trail stems from the job that the examiners are asked to do.

PhD examiners have to make a judgment about the quality of the research. Is it ‘doctoral’? Examiners are not just looking for the original contribution but also whether you know how to do research and can be let loose on the world as an independent researcher, able to undertake unsupervised research that will be competent and scholarly. So they need “evidence” that you can do this.

At its most basic level, whether something is doctoral is a question of data quantity – has the person done enough work and got enough data to answer the question they’ve posed, using the method they’ve chosen. Depending on the question, this might be as small as one person or one text, or it might be as big as national data base. The doctoral researcher must tie the question, methodology, methods and data decisions and processes together. The thesis needs to both show and tell, and argue, the actual basis of the research.

At the next level, the examiners need to be able to follow what you’ve done. They/we/I can’t make a judgment about ‘doctorateness’ if all they/we/I am looking at is a set of results – if that’s all there is then they/we/I don’t actually know how you’ve arrived at them. If you don’t show how you’ve reached your conclusions then you are virtually saying to the examiner – “Trust me, I didn’t make it up, I was systematic and rigorous and I did look for things that didn’t fit as well as those that did, but I won’t show you what I did…”

It sometimes seems to me that researchers who do statistical work are more aware than others of the need to show that their calculations are error free and statistically defensible. But people working with interpretive approaches also have to be able to show what decisions they have made, why, how and the basis for them. In interpretive work, examiners are not looking for accuracy but they are looking out, for example, for the kinds of searching that has occurred in archives, the reasoning behind the interpretation of interview material and texts, the kind of critical interrogation undertaken.

And of course providing an audit trail doesn’t all have to be in the main methods chapter – you put the most important, the key, information in the chapter and then provide the rest as appendices. An over-detailed audit trail might well frustrate your examiner and you don’t want to do that either. That’s nearly as bad as leaving them uninformed. But not quite.

You have to get the balance right with audit, as with all things thesis. So it’s really important to get an idea of the general level of audit trail that’s provided in your discipline and then, as necessary, confine the rest of the workings and ‘evidence’ to an appendix where the examiner can follow it up.

Posted in evidence, examination criteria, examiner, methodology, methods chapter | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

blogging about blogging

I’ve noticed that an awful lot of bloggers blog about blogging. Some bloggers who blog about blogging blog about other kinds of academic writing as well. And some bloggers blog about academic writing, but not blogging – but not often. If you blog about one form of writing, you tend to blog about the other. But I have a hunch that more bloggers blog about blogging than blog about the other kinds of academic writing they do. And while I see bloggers taking their blogging about blogging into mainstream academic publications, I don’t see a lot of bloggers publishing more generally about academic writing. There are some of course who do, and I’m one of them.

I’ve also noticed that a lot of blogging about blogging has common themes:

(1) advocacy blogging about blogging – readers are encouraged to think about blogging and given reasons why it is a Good Thing
(2) instructional blogging about blogging – readers are provided with a set of handy hints about how to start and manage a blog
(3) reflective blogging about blogging – writers consider their own blogging habits, be they fast/slow, regular/irregular, diary-like, linked to impact, absolutely unlike other forms of academic writing, career building, testing out of ideas, a way of improving other forms of academic writing and so on …

So what does this blogging about blogging actually mean, I wonder? Well, I suspect that blogging has somehow legitimated, promoted and extended an interest in academic writing.

In 2001, Mike Rose and Karen McClafferty wrote an important paper for a key US educational research journal entitled “A call for the teaching of writing in graduate education”. Rose and McClafferty argued that all graduate students should engage in some formal learning about writing and should be exposed to research about writing. Based on investigations of their own regular ten-week graduate writing workshops at UCLA, they suggested that writing workshops had a number of benefits for doctoral researchers, including:
• an increased sense of agency about the crafting of writing
• a stronger sense of audience
• more understanding of how to make writing accessible within the confines of their discipline
• improved skills as critical readers
• more access to critical peer support, and
• more opportunity to shape a scholarly identity in and through writing.

Since Rose and McClafferty wrote this piece there has been significant growth of exactly the kinds of writing workshops that they envisaged. In addition, many universities now employ writing specialists who work across the disciplines. It is a rare UK and Australian Graduate School which doesn’t now offer some kind of writing based programme for doctoral researchers.

But I think that many of the benefits that Rose and McClafferty attribute to writing workshops may also apply to blogging. Certainly some of the blogging about blogging suggests that bloggers find they have a greater sense of agency and feel they have a more assured voice, write more accessibly, and that they’ve found a greater range of readers. Blogs about blogging suggest that bloggers also find – and frequently point to – new forms of peer support and other academic opportunities generated through their blogging, as opposed to other forms of academic writing. This suggests of course that the act of just writing more may be a Very Good Thing and that writing in public and for a public or two may be even better.

And one more thing. Blogging about blogging, and to a lesser extent blogging about academic writing more generally, has moved writing discussions out of formal classrooms and away from people who are writing specialists. We might say that discussions about academic writing have in part been democratised. Everybody who blogs has some vernacular blog writing expertise since there aren’t yet any blogging ‘experts’, merely people who’ve been doing it longer than others. And there are no gatekeepers who decide who can blog about blogging, simply readers who do or don’t accept what is on offer. Similarly, there are no gatekeepers for who blogs about academic writing. Blogging about blogging is free for all, sometimes a free for all. But all this bloggery seems to be doing something about academic writing that is new, different, and generally positive.

Posted in academic writing, blogging | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

you can’t always write what you want

I seem to spend a lot of time these days writing things that I don’t much like, things that I don’t want to write now, or perhaps ever. This writing feels like a chore, an obligation, a duty, a necessity. What’s more, it doesn’t feel like ‘me’. It seems mechanical and as if I can’t put anything of myself into it.

My list of writing I don’t want to do includes a lot of predictable bureaucratic essentials: reports of projects; reports of activities of the research centre I direct; reports about research activities for audit purposes and reports on student progress. But it also includes some writing which will make a difference for other people and so I must do this even though I don’t enjoy the writing: references; letters of support; reviews of papers, bids and book proposals; assessments of various theses and assignments.

Both of these – bureaucratic essentials and things for other people – are written to fairly conventional formulae. There is an accepted way to begin, proceed and conclude the writing. These are texts written for known readers with predictable expectations and the writing often feels like just filling in the blanks – and indeed there are often pre-formatted blank boxes. Just insert x hundred characters. There is little opportunity for any writer to play with these kinds of frames, to insert themselves into the writing, to write with any kind of creativity. This writing gets done sometimes with gritted teeth and frequently at the last moment.

But there are other forms of writing that I don’t want to do too. There are things that I’ve committed to. These pieces just have to be done and often to a deadline. They can end up being a bit of a struggle, particularly getting a start on them … book chapters I’ve promised to write; journal articles I owe; contracted research reports for funders. Then there are the things I ought to write – papers from research projects to communicate the results to the appropriate audiences; papers that need to be written so that data doesn’t go to waste; books that might make a difference to policy and practice. Things I ought to write hang around in the back of my mind, or on a list of writing to do at some indeterminate time in the future.

By now I’m sure that you can see that most of the writing that I actually do is writing I don’t want to do. This may come as a surprise since I do write a lot. In fact, I write nearly every day. For example, this year I have first authored four book chapters, three refereed journal articles, three research reports and several op-ed pieces as well as co-written about a third of a book. Another book chapter is underway together with a further research report and a slew of conference papers. So not wanting to write doesn’t equate to me not writing at all – although I do confess to having stalled on a book manuscript for far too long.

The only form of writing that I usually – but not always – want to do is this patter blog, and that’s because I can just make it up as I go along, say whatever I want to say and however I decide to say it. It seems to be, in my case anyway, that it’s the requirement to write that inevitably produces initial resistance, a reluctance to face the blank screen, procrastination, attention directed to other more pressing things.

Now the first thing about dealing with the writing I don’t want to do syndrome is to recognize that this is the norm. Moments of aha, of inspiration, of writing what you really want to do (apart from blogging), are rare. It’s only very occasionally that an idea takes hold of me with great force and I have to write immediately. The I must write this now feeling is the exception. The vast majority of writing that I do – and most academic writers and writers of all shapes and forms are in the same boat, I suspect – is in some way a chore, certainly at the start.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with this must get going on the writing. As I was revising this post I noticed Athene Donald writing about her practice of ‘mulling it over’ before she begins to write. She thinks herself into the piece, mentally sorts her thoughts, makes sure she has a starting point when she sits down to compose. And some people do speed writing exercises in order to get the writing going and to find out what they have to say. Many speed-writers make a social occasion of the start-up practice. For them, beginning writing is a bit like going to the gym with a good friend – finding a way together to make sure that you both meet your separate obligations.

But I don’t mull over or speed write. I do something else again. I’m quite self-disciplined about writing and can generally overcome the pesky writing I don’t want to do. (Except in the case of the stalled book and I do think this is a matter of finding a bigger chunk of time.)

Rather like artists who have a studio routine that they use in order to get the ideas flowing, I start the writing I don’t want to do with a set activity, making a list of key points. These are the things that must be said in the piece. Then I add a few sentences to each of the points so that I have something like a series of short paragraphs. At this stage I might cut and paste something into this new document from a research report that I then rewrite. Or I might write a small piece about methods or literature or play with a bit of data analysis, depending on the type of writing I’m doing. Next I tinker with the points and paragraphs to get them in some kind of order. Generally this pre-writing ends up as a long list in the right order. More often than not, if I am writing by myself or first authoring, I also write a short or long abstract – a Tiny Text – and decide on the title.

By this stage I am committed to the piece of writing. I have things to say, I know the order in which they will be said, and I often have an idea of how to bring a bit of authorial voice to the process. And it is when I start to bring my own ‘style’ into the writing that it transforms – it is no longer writing I don’t want to do – it is now something I am writing. The don’t want and don’t like writing have disappeared and I am now in the process, the writing is underway. And because I’ve been through this process a lot, I know once that once I have started writing in this way, the odds are that I’ll finish it.

The question of wanting to write can get in the way of starting to write, but only if you let it. Sometimes, as in the case of bureaucratic writing and writing for other people, it’s the sense of responsibility that gets it going and done. For the vast majority of other academic writing, it’s a matter of finding a technique and a set of tools that will allow you to start, despite any reluctance you feel. The way to get going will differ from person to person – it might be mulling it over, speed writing, or beginning with a simple list or something else. You just have to try things until you find what works for you.

You can’t always write what you want – but as the song goes – if you try sometime, you might just find you get what you need….

Posted in writer's block, writing, writing as work | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

when field work is just pants

Going away on research field-work requires more than selecting and packing specialised kit – various bits of technology, each designed for a particular task. It also needs a very specific kind of domestic organisation. Sorting out what might seem to be the trivial life details before heading off to do research somewhere other than home can actually take quite a bit of thinking time. Well, at least that’s what I find.

Take food for instance. Do you really do need those very special tea bags, or can you do without them for a while? Should you take scroggin* – hearty little bags of nibbles that will keep you going just in case your domicile for the night has inconsiderately closed the kitchen by the time you arrive? Should you take your favorite brand of muesli so you can avoid the kind of breakfast more suited to a day’s hard labour in a salt mine than a few hours conducting interviews? Do you need to book dinner with a friend on at least one night so you’re not left with room service Caesar salad and endless reruns of American crime programmes? These are important considerations. Getting gastronomic decisions wrong can make field-work miserable.

However, it’s not food that keeps me awake before going on field-work. No, it’s laundry. I have a laundry obsession. I can spend days thinking about whether I will take enough underwear to last the distance or wash things out along the way. It’s not that doing laundry in the bathroom would interfere with sorting out the notes and images that I’ve produced during the field-work day. It’s about whether this would be adequate laundry. Will the clothes actually be clean and dry enough? Am I prepared to launder in a sink with an invariably leaking plug using artfully named and impenetrably wrapped non-lathering soap which won’t rinse out? Well maybe. But maybe not.

I could send things out of course. Hotel laundries will launder for you at a cost. But this does assume that the hotel laundry reads the labels on the garments and makes the appropriate decisions about water temperature and drying. You see, sending out laundry is always a risk.

I vividly remember being on an ‘educational trade mission’ (no, I’m not going to explain that) to the Indian subcontinent (no I’m not going to say where). It was quite an extensive trip and I was away so long that either washing in the bathroom sink or sending garments out was inevitable. I couldn’t possibly have carried enough spare clothes to last the trip unless I had, with jaunty postcolonial irony, hired a couple of smallish camels to haul all the cases that would have been necessary. The hotel where our delegation was based was an apparently reputable international chain (no, I’m not going to say which although I probably should) and so I made the decision one morning to send my laundry out. When I came back late that evening it was scrupulously wrapped in plastic and hung in the wardrobe. I had a strong sense of satisfaction. I was all replenished and ready for the next couple of weeks. On ripping open the parcel with smug anticipation I was almost felled by some kind of malodourous petroleum product. I guessed it was a form of dry-cleaning fluid, but certainly not one that I knew. I had dry-cleaned knickers that reeked of something you might find on a garage floor. All of the items, mainly underwear it must be said, were literally un-wearable. They had to be binned. But because I had sent almost all of my smalls out to be laundered, and we were on a very busy programme, I had no time to buy any alternatives. I was reduced to nightly laundering and daily wearing of undergarments that were always damp. Great in a humid climate.

So you can now understand, given this evidence, my enhanced laundry paranoia and my nervousness about handing delicates over to anyone else. While other researchers might fret about the tea bags, or whether to take a little black dress just-in-case, my pre-field-work worrying is always about the desirability and location of the laundry facilities.

My Australian co-researchers know this only too well. When I arrive in their homes they invariably and gently tell me as I enter the front door that they have finished their washing for the week and their machine is available for me to use. And when we are away at conferences or co-writing in an equatorial location somewhere in between the north and south, they know we must have an apartment with a washing machine – and a clothes-horse to hang things on.

So it’s going to come as no surprise to them – and now to you – to know that the very first thing I do when I get back home from field-work is the laundry. The suitcase is literally unpacked into the washing machine. While other people might get home anxious to organise their notes and begin writing out some key points so that they don’t forget anything, I’m sorting piles of clothing into black, coloured and white. Post field-work the thing I most look forward to is seeing clean garments hung out, in carefully coded and thematised groups, on the line.

* scroggin – alternatively known as trail mix and beloved of ramblers, canoeists and other outdoor types.

Posted in research | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

kit for the portable academic…

I’m currently doing a week of intense ethnographic research at Tate. It’s one of my favourite times of the year because I get to be a real researcher for more than half a day at a time. Because I live in the middle of the country and Tate is in London, being a real researcher means I have to stay away from home. It’s much too time consuming to come in and out every day. So a Tate ethnography week is always associated with a suitcase – and making sure I pack everything I’m going to need. Once I’m actually researching I don’t have time to rush out and replace anything I’ve left behind because I’d miss what I was there to do. I have to make sure I have everything I might need with me. I have to be a portable researcher.

So what’s in my take-away ethnographic kit?

Well, the first thing I make sure I have is a new notebook. The notebook is THE signature of the ethnographer and so it’s always the absolute first thing to be sorted. This is a Goldilocks exercise. The notebook has to be just the right size – big enough, as I don’t want to run out of pages, and small enough so that there’s not stacks of empty pages at the end of the week and I feel like I’ve killed trees for no reason. I also like each fieldwork notebook to have a different patterned or coloured cover so I can pick them out easily on my bookshelf. After a bit of trial and error I now always use a particular brand which my university bookshop stocks; they’re ones with V and A museum covers just in case anyone is interested!

Then I must have a workable pen. I always seem to have lots of those complimentary biros that everyone and their pet project now gives away, but most of them are pretty fragile. (Cheapskate publicity right? They don’t think about the contradictory effects when they break In two. You heard that RCUK?) So I have to do a bit of pen testing beforehand to make sure I’ve got at least one pen that is robust and that has enough ink to last a week’s scribbling. It also has to be a distinctive external colour so it doesn’t get easily misplaced. I generally have a spare pen too as I inevitably lose the first one. My notorious pen-losing habit, or maybe it’s my pen-borrowing friends, are why I never have a fancy costly pen and always go for the often-dodgy free ones.

I invariably include a reasonable quality point-and-shoot camera with a good zoom lens. Zoom is crucial because it means I can get close to the action without being too intrusive. Of course I also have to have the right camera battery charger and a lead for downloading if I decide I want to examine or use any of the pictures before the week is out. I sometimes bring a flip video camera with me but I’ve learnt that video data is not that useful in this particular project. If push comes to shove I can use the camera I have for short video clips.

I have an audio recorder as well, one with a reasonable quality small external microphone. My current recorder produces better sound quality than the equivalent in most mobile phones and it’s thus much easier on the ear for anyone transcribing. (That also means cheaper transcriptions as I don’t ever have time to transcribe for myself any more. ) I do have a very good – and big – microphone which I use for formal interviews but I don’t do any of these during ethnography weeks so that stays home. I have to have spare batteries for the recorder. This week I have the recorder with me but I haven’t used it. That often happens. The audio recorder is more a just-in-case bit of kit and I’m currently thinking I might start to leave it at home… But then next time I’ll want it and I won’t have it, deep inward breath, so maybe I’ll keep bringing it.

These days I have an iPad with me all the time anyway, regardless of where I am. In ethnography weeks I use it to take some pictures, to tweet and occasionally to blog during the day, particularly if there is a Tate blog on the go, as there is this time. The iPad needs a cord and plug. I also have earplugs for the iPad, as I use it for music on the train and sometimes in the hotel room.

But I do often bring my Mac notebook with me too, on ethnography weeks, so I can type up notes at night. I also use it to manage any other teaching or admin work I have to do, particularly anything which involves downloading big files. I don’t like the iPad keyboard, I’m not alone there I’m sure, although I will use it if I must. Like the audio recorder, the notebook is a bit superfluous and I must confess I haven’t used it at all so far this week. However if anything were to happen to the iPad, bigger deep inward breath, I do have a back-up.

I have a phone supplied by my university which is incompatible with the iPad and notebook (grrr), so it also has a plug. However, this plug fits my Kindle which I have for reading detective novels in bed at night. While I can read on the iPad I do find it a bit big for comfortable in-bed reading… hence an entirely dispensable additional bit of tech.

And because I have to walk to and from Tate I also have to have a small shoulder bag I can use to cart all this gear around. The IPad, camera, notebooks and pens stay in the bag for the entire duration of the time away from home.

I know I could economise on the stuff I have, but at present this is what I do. This is my ethnographer’s kit. I have had even more than this in the past. So, as well as now leaving video recorder and big microphone behind, in recent years I’ve jettisoned portable USB drives in favour of cloud storage so that has reduced the kit a little too. I dare say I really could do with less, but I do feel very well prepared for all eventualities with all of this stuff. I’m confident I can manage what I need to do with these particular appendages, even though of course they do take up a fair bit of room in my suitcase. However the suitcase is not sooooo heavy I can’t manage it on and off the train, although I dare say the hotel room cleaners are a bit bemused by the array of chargers and plugs that greet them when they come in to check the fridge.

Having all this gear means I’m not anxious about breakdowns or missing any opportunities that arise. But I wonder, is there anything I’ve forgotten or that I truly ought to have and haven’t yet thought of? And how does my kit compare with yours? What do you find you can’t do without when doing research away from home?

Posted in Ethnographic kit, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments