Ethnographic Scenes and Interviewing with Pictures

In Chapters 3, 4, and 5 of Writing Ethnographic Field Notes, Robert M. Emerson, Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw talk about the process involved in turning ethnographic field notes or jottings into full descriptive scenes. The tips and advice they gave were quite basic at first; such as transcribing and composing the scenes as soon as you return home from your field work. However, as the chapters went on they provided me with several nuggets of advice: ethnographers must abandon their neutral tone when writing these scenes and adopt a more narrative convention. 

For my purposes, the passages on characterization and dialogue were supremely helpful and engaging. My main interest lies in fiction writing so everything I read about the craft, including the advice presented in this book, registers with me if I can apply it to one of my stories. I’m always looking to improve. For example, I tend to use stereotypical characterization such as color, race, and gender when writing and while those are important identifiers, the authors of this book urge writers to be more creative in their word choices. “Pressed to finish his notes, a writer might be tempted to characterize by using some convenient label rather than looking closely at the person’s actual appearance and behavior. Such quick characterization, however, produces a stock character who, at best, comes across as less than fulling human and, at worst, appears as a negative stereotype” (70). Glancing back at my field notes, I noticed that at times I used this convenient characterization, while others I gave more description.

The other reading of the week, “Photography in Ethnographic Research,” by S. Pink expanded my view on research. While pictures have always played a part in my research process, I never thought to use it as a tool for interviewing. That really surprised me. It’s a nice jumping off point to start an interview and a conversation. Photos are like chameleon  they adapted to their surroundings, and can adopt a myriad of different meanings.

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One thought on “Ethnographic Scenes and Interviewing with Pictures

  1. I am excited about the use of photography in my research too. I think it is definitely worth exploring. It would be great to start an interview conversation based on visual impressions of images and photographs.

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