Sunday, November 23, 2008

First Post

Well, I meant to set up a fieldwork blog and with DK being so diligent... I better start writing something!!!

While I am still getting used to this blogging about life, I'll just be a bit ramble-y.

I've been in Tokyo just over a week now. Here's my main thoughts on "fieldwork" so far, though it's hard to say really whether I am really doing "fieldwork". For starters, I'm still waiting to be able to start at my laboratory in January, as well as various visa issues, and trying to set up my academic affiliation. On the other hand, I need to do something with myself, so I try to at least go around (to places where there might be robots especially!) and take notes. We're told that we should take notes on everything, and take a lot of notes. Which is strange. Because on the one hand there seems to be so many things I could write down all the time. Especially in Tokyo, there is constant bombardment of shapes, colors, people. And that's with the inability to really read most signs properly and to understand the conversations going on around me! But it's also very exhausting to be taking notes about things all the time. It also seems trivial and sort of silly. A strange feeling, trying to observe all these things which might occupy your mind for a brief second and then be forgotten. Like on the train, I write down various gadgets that people are using as well as a description of the person using it. I write down interesting advertisements. I write down descriptions of pachinko parlours. It's also difficult I find to be very detailed about these things. How do I explain a pachinko parlour other than loud, smokey, and an overload of flashing lights and colours?This actually works better when you are kind of anonymous, as I can sit there and write in a notebook and nobody really cares. Of course, in a conversation with a person it is not all that easy to pull out a notebook and start writing. I suppose it is also an interesting exercise in memory... trying to put these things in mind and be able to recall them later.

The other thing is how much you feel like a spy, like you are somehow being dodgy! I mainly find this when observing people's behavior. For instance, I found a service robot that moves around a mall so I followed it around while browsing the shops in order to record people's responses. It's just very strange to be half-pretending to look at Lacoste sweaters or Japanese language magazines while I try to note down people's body gestures and interest in a robot that looks something like a giant vending machine.

But as I said, I don't have my laboratory yet and I'm also working on the language. So, it will be interesting to see what "fieldwork" and "note-taking" feels like when I have people who I interact with regularly as my "informants"!

6 comments:

Alex said...

Haha, that just makes me think of the dodgey meter ;)

Doesn't sound too bad though. Kinda sounds fun - being a dodgey spy and all.

Steph said...

Dodgy indeed! next time i see someone acting dodgy like that i'm going to ask if they're an anthropologist.

V said...

Hey Michael, I just got sent the link to your blog by Moises, and it's very interesting. I can sort of empathise with you because a) I'm an anthropologist myself, and just finished the famous fieldwork a couple of months ago; and b) I've also lived in Tokyo in the past, so I know what a strange and confusing place it can be for a gaijin. Apart from that, let me just say what a fascinating topic I think you've got, it's really rather original! So best of luck for you, and keep blogging! :-)

Sitna said...

Hi Mike, I've been enjoying reading Daniela's blog and I am happy to find that you will also have yours. I liked this first entry, its very honest.
I see "the field" and fieldwork more like a "state of mind" rather than a specific place or activity. For me, fieldwork is trying to be aware all the time of what is around you, observing, smelling and sensing, and that certainly can be a bit exhausting at the beginning. That's why I think that anybody can do fieldwork anywhere, including home, but this is just my personal opinion.
I see the note-taking activity more like an exercise to make this awareness process easier and, above all, it is just a memory device. I guess everybody has their own style to do "fieldwork". I prefer, as you say, to just exercise my memory and then recall things to write them down in private. I feel that pulling out a notebook while being in a conversation would take my attention away from listening to people, but that is just me, other people might find it useful.
And in the end, yes, there is an spy-like or detective element in it, but that it's quite fun, don't you think so?

Daniela said...

Yay MB!! love it!!! can just picture u following a robot around the mall!

one thing about notebooks and talking to people. i have been told, but maybe this applies more to smaller towns where you see the same people repeatedly, that if you have the notebook out ALL the time, people eventually forget about it and it doesn't distract them or inhibit them from. So that is what i've been doing, because to remember everything that happens in one day - is too much!

Michael said...

Thanks for all the comments!