Category: "Fieldwork"


01:38:24 pmCategories: Fieldwork, Paris

Fieldwork - a moveable feast?

Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan. I did not know it was too early for that because I did not know Paris well enough. But that was how it worked out eventually (A moveable feast, 2007, p. 4).

It took Hemingway several decades to write about Paris.

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11:18:17 pmCategories: Fieldwork, Spaces, Academic life and family, Paris

The multilingual playground

(Early Sunday morning. Where are my playmates?)

It’s not the first time I write about how I enjoy hanging out in Parisian playgrounds (see posts from 2005 and 2007). They’re small to middle sized and every neighbourhood seem to have one. So, if you’re looking for a green and shady place to relax for a while and observe the local way of life, a playground can be recommended. Earlier, I haven’t paid much attention to the standard of the equipment, but this time I quickly noticed that all the parks in this part of the town have got new, exciting and very varied games for the different age sets. Perhaps this is part of an renovation of the public spaces in the Northeastern and poorer districts of Paris?

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08:09:49 pmCategories: Fieldwork, Distinctions

La concierge, Parisian overture part 2

This terrible and expensive mess I created during a tenth of a second’s inattentiveness and a draught from the balcony doors would never have happened if it weren’t for the French holidays. But now the holidays are over and the house has got back its gardienne (a warden, an occupation formerly known as a concierge before it became a derogatory), and then everything falls into place. She probably knows most of what goes on in the apartment block and so she knows when someone needs a plumber, electrician, carpenter or locksmith, and he can recommend them one. So she’s got a whole estate backing up her negotiating power with the local providers of practical jobs, and negotiate she can! I’ve never lived in a building with a concierge before so I’ve never had the chance to see how they excel in their work. And by golly, that was something! Here, I get to my point. Or, I’m not really sure yet what this has got to do with my fieldwork and research, but I have a feeling that to see a concierge work means to see an essential element in how this society works.

The way she negotiated over the phone for a better price and super fast accomplishment with a locksmith she knew, at the same time as she answered all the inhabitants who greeted her en passant for work after her holidays, and intermittently sort of put in place the Jeunet drunkard (who only had tried to help us, but who shrunk a little anyway as he knows he stinks of alcohol probably), called up carpenters in her own flat and gently told them off, commanded Leo and the bird dog not to get to close and so on, all in a firm but sort of generous way. Her charisma was that of a school teacher whom you just know you must behave your very best with, and if you do, things will go your way. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bourdieu have written extensively on la concierge in the French version of The Distinction, because her position in the French class hierarchy must be quite peculiar. I’ve heard a very nice documentary series on these kind of wardens on France Culture a while ago, but now I’ve seen one in action and I definitely want one for my block back in Oslo. (But of course we’ll never get a concierge, we’ve only got this shitty neoliberal caretaker service business providers who call themselves things like economical solutions and who might change a bulb after a week but never ever greet you and make sure that everything is all right).


09:13:46 pmCategories: Fieldwork

Parisian overture, or getting a locksmith in the holiday season

Back in Belleville, - if only for a short visit

Finding a place to stay in Paris is one of the worst things I know (except from at a hotel, which is easy.) I’ve lived at six different places in the city, and almost every time some kind of trouble has been involved. (The only exception had a quite boring neighbourhood which was almost eventless in terms of fieldwork relevance.) This time, everything went unbelievably smooth. Even arriving with a small child was just enjoyable. Until I made a horrible mistake after ten minutes when I closed the high security fucking reinforced door when we were just popping across the street to get something for Leo’s supper. With a draught of wind, the door was closed with a spare key in the key hole on the inside. The next few hours involved a dozen of kind and welcoming neighbours, the wonderfully helpful cleaning lady and her wonderfully caricatural companion taken right out of a film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (or maybe comics by Tardi), three conmen and three policemen.

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11:08:07 amCategories: Fieldwork, Writing

Research and ethics: France on Facebook

All of a sudden, people I knew from different circles in France started appearing on Facebook, about two years after the craze hit Norway. It reminded me of a question brought up in a seminar preparing graduate students for fieldwork I lead a while ago: Should one include one’s informants on one’s regular Facebook account? A girl wondered whether to keep two accounts; one for the fieldworker and one for her private self. If not, all attempts at anonymising would of course be futile.

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01:42:16 pmCategories: Fieldwork, Post-fieldwork

One year ago today…

Leaving Paris by train

Today, it is one year since I packed my bags and left the field. I left a little earlier than planned because the field exhausted me and I wanted some calm. The last ten days I had lived in an hotel, because the letting contract had run out and I was not in the mood, nor had the energy, nor the extravertness to ask any of my acquaintances for a place to stay. After sleeping 6 months on the world’s hardest futon four floors above the madness of Rue du Faubourg du Temple, the crammed hotel room with thin walls and slamming doors almost felt like a relief. Instead, I think it was the nature of the fieldwork itself that exhausted me.

In London, I lived in a great flat share (in such a lovely British terraced house with blackbirds, squirrels and cats in the greenery outside my window), where I could withdraw from the maelstrom of the field for some hours or a day or two, with people to share my frustrations and find inspiration. In Paris, I had nothing but aloneness – and probably quite a lot of loneliness – when I refuged from the field. In addition, the field itself was several levels more advanced than what I had sharpened my anthropological tools on in London.

My command of French limited, but had I not chosen to study a group of people whose force was their command of language, game of words and poetry? In London, practically all my “informants” were my peers, in terms of level of education and to some extent social background, and they were no more than ten years older or younger than me. In Paris, the majority hadn’t even finished 12 years of schooling and only a handful had been to university. Instead, many had been through a whole different school of life than I could imagine. In terms of age, they ranged from 20 years younger to 35 years older. Moreover, while my focus of study had been of great interest to the people concerned in London, I never really felt that that was the case in Paris. Perhaps it was the language that made me qua researcher far more interesting to spend time with in England than in France, perhaps it was the subjects of concern, or perhaps it was just the French tradition of liaisons that rarely let me qua femme (et blonde et exotique en plus) retreat in favour of the researcher and even friend. I wouldn’t say that this fieldwork demanded black belt in professional and language skills and social sagacity, but it demanded enough to make me so exhausted in the end that I voluntarily left Paris more than two weeks before schedule. But it was really an awful summer anyway. And besides, I had important business to sort out at home.

After an autumn of absence, the field started coming back to me. When I hurried through my old neighbourhood in East Paris for a quick coffee by Canal Saint Martin on my way back from Corsica to Oslo in the spring, I realised how much I missed the atmosphere. What atmosphere? I can’t say for the moment, but that particular feel the streets of North East Paris instigate is something I grapple with in my writing at the moment. The sheer diversity of human beings and activities everywhere at all times, the history, beauty and grandeur emanating from the buildings and boulevards, the touch of anarchy and creativity in the street art and street life… I don’t know, but there is a difference. It was very hard to live it, but I really miss it. Now, for the time being, I’ll have to make do with trying to describe it.


04:31:14 pmCategories: Fieldwork, Places, Politics

Rainy day and interviews

It’s pouring down in Paris, and there is no sign of the heat wave that struck us a year ago. I’m stranded at the local bistro, wishing I had brought my woollen jacket. If the best thing to do when it rains like this is to cuddle up at home with a cup of tea, living alone in a hotel is perhaps one of the least pleasant things. (However, seeing all the people sleeping rough in this city, sometimes right on the pavement outside this bistro, it could have been very much worse. And I’m planning a sizzling hot fish tagine for lunch – if I just could get down to the restaurant – so I’m not complaining).

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12:25:21 pmCategories: Fieldwork, Music, literature, arts...

Choices… List of (some of) what I lost out on the last one and a half week

I scribbled down this text à l’arrache a day all my plans disappeared and I was still under influence of the fieldwork fatigue. Since then, I’ve not become less fatiguée, but at least I enjoy my fieldwork again. I think actually that the change came right when I took a step back and wrote this post…

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