Fieldwork is such an important - and mysterious - rite of passage in Anthropology. When you're writing grant proposals, crafting your methods section, it can be hard to imagine what you'll actually be doing in the field. And when you get funding and begin making preparations to leave, it can be hard to anticipate what you'll feel like when you get there. Because I've been busy doing fieldwork these past several months, I thought I'd help demystify the experience by sharing what a day in the life looks like for me.
7:00am Hit the Gym
I struggled a bit, but I still made all my sets and felt great afterwards. Even more than when I'm home teaching and writing, in the field, my ability to focus depends a lot on feeling healthy and happy. I try to get 8 hours of sleep every night and to work out regularly. Hitting the gym first thing in the morning a few days a week is the best way to clear my mind.
10:30am Head to My Primary Field Site
After the gym, I get ready for the day and spend 30 minutes writing up notes for a presentation I'll be giving for one of my funders. Even though I've been told not to worry about reading or writing while in the field, there are always other things to be working on: presentations, conference abstracts, write-up fellowship applications. I try to budget at least 30 minutes every day to plug away at these other tasks.
Then I have a quick Skype session back home. Talking to my partner as he's finishing his day (I'm 11.5 hours ahead of him) is a nice reward for getting some work done first thing in the morning. And while it does make me feel homesick sometimes, I find that staying connected to my life back home helps keep fieldwork in perspective.
From my place, I walk a few minutes to catch an auto-rickshaw to the metro station, which takes me directly to my primary field site, the office of a transportation planning firm. The commute takes about 45 minutes. Most of my "coworkers" get to the office between 10 and 11, so I try to get there by 11 or 11:30 to say my hellos and let people settle in before I start pestering them.
11:00am Settle into My Cubicle
In my case, fieldwork looks a lot like an office job. In designing my project, I intentionally chose to have a single firm as my primary field site, because I knew I'd want a place I could go most days. Here, I have my own cubicle with access to wifi, and my work as an anthropologist looks just like everyone else's work: I spend most of my time typing or clicking away at my laptop and then sitting with others in their own cubicles chatting about their work.
On my way in, I bump into someone from another department, and we chat about a project meeting with stakeholders she's just come back from and about a new policy in Delhi and how it's affecting her work in bus operations.
Once I settle in, I pop my head over the cubicle wall to say hello to the two planners who are my next door neighbors and to ask how they're doing on a deadline I know they have later in the day.
12:00pm Map Making
I sit with Shashwat for a while as he puts the finishing touches on some maps for that report that's due later in the day. I've been following this project through the various stages of planning. A month ago, I traveled with him and another planner to this town for their own 'fieldwork.' There, they supervised a team of survey workers who counted cars, motorcycles, buses, and other vehicles on the local roads; interviewed bus passengers; and documented parking demand. The three of us also met with local stakeholders, took road width measurements, and walked all of the town's pedestrian paths, envisioning future improvements.
The interim report documents their analyses of this data collection.
Another perk of this site is that, as in many Indian offices, everyone shares their home-cooked food at lunch time. My coworkers don't talk a lot of shop during lunch, but it's still a great way to get to know people and build rapport.
2:00pm Ice Cream
After lunch, the entire planning team goes out for ice cream together. Every other day, it seems, there's an excuse to celebrate someone's birthday, engagement, or wedding anniversary, and these milestones make for a good excuse to prod the celebrant into treating everyone in the office.
Floating above us as we eat is a billboard congratulating Delhiites on their participation in a recent policy experiment to reduce traffic and improve air pollution.
3:00pm Field Notes
Back at my desk, I take some time to write notes about the conversations I've had. I use Evernote for this, which has worked well. I write about my conversation about bus operations. I write about my conversation with Shashwat as he finished the interim report maps. Because I took pictures of him doing that work, I drop those into my note. Evernote makes this easy. (I'll discuss how I use Evernote for my fieldnotes in a future post.)
4:00pm Phone Calls and Informed Consent
After updating my field notes for the day so far, I make some phone calls. Despite several attempts, one person is busy or doesn't pick up. The other is happy to meet with me for an interview, and we schedule a time to meet later in the week. I'd received his phone number in an interview with someone else, and after our brief conversation, he texts me his email address. I write him an email with more background about my research and attach a Study Information Sheet, as required by my IRB.
4:30pm Team Meeting
Before I've even had a chance to add this scheduled interview to my calendar, one of the planners invites me into the conference room with the rest of the planning team. There, we listen to a pitch from the representative of a company offering special services for planning. The subject matter isn't necessarily interesting for the purposes of my project, but the critical energy with which the planners question him and his product is.
5:30pm More Field Notes
By this point in the day, I'm tired. I jot down some notes about the team meeting and pack up my things, saying goodbye to those within earshot. On the way home, I replay some of the events of the day, wondering what it all means for my project. It's been a relatively busy day, and I try to imagine how and if any of it will end up in my dissertation.
7:00pm Unwinding at Home
Once home, I have dinner and unwind with some Netflix and Skype conversations back home. The day has been productive but tiring, and I know that I'll be at my best tomorrow if I get a good night's sleep. Fieldwork is a marathon. Definitely not a sprint.
Are you in the field right now? Would you like to contribute a post about your own fieldwork experience? I would love to share it. Please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.