• Zachary Blair

On Writing Ethnography (for the first time)



Writing has never been a problem for me. I have always loved writing. But writing an ethnography has been such a huge challenge. There are no rules to writing an ethnography, so you are never taught "how to write an ethnography" - at least I never was. Journalistic writing - pretty clear. There is a structure, a style, guidelines, and an established norm. Creative writing - fun. Essay writing - beginning, middle, and end.

Writing ethnography, unlike anything else I have ever written, has been such an arduous process of discovery, trial and error, experimentation, reflection, and massive revision. You also learn what to do and what no to do next time around. The mountains of data I have collected over the course of 4 years is a lot to revisit during the writing process; and I revisit it often. It's very time consuming.

During this process, I have written literally thousands of pages - drafts upon drafts that I have literally throw out. Each for a different reason.

I didn't like that.

That's not even what I'm trying to say.

How did I stray off on that tangent for that long?

Wait, what am I writing about again?

I don't even mention my own fieldwork for 30 pages, and this isn't a literature review. What am I even doing?

Did I already talk about that 120 pages ago?

How am I even connecting this point to the previous chapter?

This just keeps sounding worse each time I read it.

I have to go back to my field notes again?

Can I search that database digitally? It would be so much quicker. Oh wait, that was before iPhones, iPads, and iMacs. I have to convert that and find the appropriate program.

It's been how long? Is this even relevant?

I have to see if someone has already written about that and published it while I am still writing about it.

Where can I add that? It doesn't fit anywhere! But it needs to go somewhere. I have to re-write that chapter.

Oh my, after reading that article/book - I have to throw out my introduction. It can't be anything like that. At all. Gross. Let's not use any of those resources either. Let me distance myself as far as possible from that conversation.

None of this works, I need a new spin. A better lens. A better framework.

I still keep them though. They are sitting in piles on my floor. Just in case there is something, somewhere in there that I can re-use.

This is really hard work.

#writing #dissertation #boystown #anthropology #ethnography #chicago

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© 2016 by Dr. Zachary Blair