02:01:57 pmCategories: Spaces, Anthropological notes, Post-fieldwork

Steps to an analysis: from impressions to data

After I mapped out an outline two and a half months ago, my project has appeared amazingly ordered and under control. Perhaps it’s no wonder then, that I’ve postponed delving back into my fieldnotes for as long as I could, keeping myself busy with ordered and controllable intellectual activities like reading books for literature seminars and writing abstracts for upcoming workshops and conferences as well as even an article.

But I know the kind of chaos that waits in my eight small notebooks and six larger ones, one personal diary, skype chats, e-mails, smses and scattered word documents, and what kind of threat it poses to the ordered outline. Is my fieldwork as I remember it to be? I try to start from the beginning, but quickly gets discouraged. The notes from my first months are chaotic. All kinds of impressions and observations are jumbled together, often without even reference to where and when:

“Nuit noire [“black night”, 17th Oct. 1961 when several hundred peaceful protesters against the war in Algeria were thrown into the Seine]: that was of course what that they were commemorating…” Who, where?!?

“Sarkozy – visit in the banlieue on the news a few days ago. He was thrown things at…” And my comment, without question mark, with capital letters: “what they show on tv”… If I’m not completely wrong and Sarkozy was thrown things at in the suburbs many times in October 2005, this must have been the time he uttered the (in)famous words about using a high-pressure water cleaner in the suburbs (nettoyer au kärcher) to get rid of the hoodlum (voyous). I think perhaps I was surprised that the interior minister got mixed up in such a violent confrontation and uncivilised behaviour and that they showed it on tv, but my comment is of little use.

On a more positive tone; my first fieldnotes indicate what issues I noticed and found worthwhile writing about. Sarkozy’s mediatised confrontation with people in the suburb happened just a few days before the death of the two teenagers that spurred the three weeks of riots in October-November 2005.

The month I was in Paris before the riots broke out, I was mostly concerned about various aspects of identity like gender, ethnic background and class in my neighbourhood in East Paris. Not so strange, since the reason why I had chosen to live in that particular area was it’s ethnic mix. However, I think the link between identity categories and public space was not something I had planned to look for. A blog post from two weeks after my arrival, signals how early that interest struck me. In my fieldnotes, in between page after page with descriptions of interaction between strangers, I found this comparisons between middle class and working class behaviour in the partly gentrified area:

On my way to the bus stop, I walk behind a very agile 6-7 years old girl in full rollerblades gear, and her mom, apparently, wearing a spring green skirt and shirt in another bright colour. A boy, just a little younger, turns to look when the girl swirls past. He tries to copy her superb turn- and break movement (with her heal) and says something to his mother (or grandmother) in French. She (rather plump, in tight-fitting trousers in polyester) replies brusquely in a Slavic language. She takes his hand, and stops, indicating that he should make space for me to pass.

I had just read Distinction by Bourdieu, and I was thinking about the bourgeoisie [in this case a typical bobo bourgeois bohemian] who teach their children to be self-assured about the space they take up in the world, while the children of the working class should be seen but not heard

For about a month, before the riots started, the weather was wonderful and I spent much time outdoors, just walking around, getting a feeling for this part of the city, for gender, class, ethnic background, age… the presence, mixing and variations of these variables. And then came the riots, and emphasised even more strongly the connection between space and categories of people.

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