Books: Not Just For Looking At

The semester in a nutshell, courtesy Google Images

The semester in a nutshell, courtesy Google Images

I haven’t slept since January. Or eaten. (Okay, that’s a lie. I’ve eaten.) This semester has not been a piece of cake, and in this blog post, I recap the interviews and outings I have done throughout the last few months and tie them into the readings about my interviewing strategy. The beginning part of my research methods class was reading heavy; the latter half of the semester was applying strategies gleaned from the various articles and books to work out in the field. So far, here is how I’ve put those methods to work:

Primarily relying on Postmodern Interviewing by Jaber F.

Postmodern Interviewing by Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein

Postmodern Interviewing by Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein

Gubrium and James A. Holstein as well as Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes by Robert M. Emerson, Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw, I went into my first interview (in-person) armed with various strategies. Having never interviewed anyone before, I held fast to their recommendations, feeling like a lost tourist in a big city clutching a map. Postmodern Interviewing sanctions that “the interviewer must establish a climate for mutual disclosure. The interview should be an occasion that displays the interviewer’s willingness to share his or her own feelings and deepest thoughts” (72).

Remembering this advice, I made to sure discuss personal matters that dealt with teaching to create an environment conducive to sharing. I felt that swapping teaching stories from earlier that day also helped supply me with credibility since the respondent was a fellow teacher. Despite the fact that this strategy was helpful, I couldn’t help but feel that the interview remained stiff. That is, I was sharing stories of my own, but the “mutual” part wasn’t coming through, the flow was off. I felt that it was still me asking a question and getting an answer. Me asking a question and getting an answer. Repeat.

When I conducted my second in-person interview about tattoos with an administrator, I felt that the interview ebbed

Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, Second Edition, by Robert M. Emerson, Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw

Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, Second Edition, by Robert M. Emerson, Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw

much better. I relied on Postmodern Interviewing’s strategy of treating the interview as “a kind of ‘improvisational’ performance” (75). While I had two set questions in my head that I specifically wanted answered to help me tighten the focus of my feature article, I went into the interview letting the wind take us wherever it went. Postmodern Interviewing continues that “The production is spontaneous, yet structured…focused within loose parameters provided by the interviewer, who is also an active participant” (75). In this way, by having two set questions but not controlling where the interview went by always taking the respondent back to a certain point, I accomplished the “improvisational performance,” and it was quite fun. While our discussion primarily focused on tattoos in the workplace, it deviated to other, related matters such as piercings, and certainly held all of the qualifications of a rich conversation.

In addition, I went to the Skindustry Expo (my first outing into the field) armed with a few methods. At the end of March, I was still relatively new to the interviewing process (not that I’m essentially an “expert” in it now, but I acquired much more experience in interviewing since attending the expo). There was so much to look at (and listen to) when Susette and I entered the expo that it was overwhelming at first. While I wanted to take out my notebook and start jotting right away, I did not do so because I wanted to continue to look around, to get a feel for the environment before I tore my eyes away to write it all down. Writing for Ethnographic Fieldnotes states that “in most social settings, writing down what is taking place as it occurs is a strange, marginalizing activity that marks the writer as an observer rather than a full, ordinary participant” (43). Indeed, words like “strange,” “marginalizing,” and “ordinary” were exactly what I felt. Afraid that taking out my notebook would give me away (despite the fact that I had no visible tattoos, clearly the more obvious give-away) I postponed taking it out right away. Eventually, when I did, I was afraid that everyone was looking at me, but soothed my anxiety by telling myself that maybe they thought I was writing down ideas for a tattoo. (Yeah, keep dreaming.) Writing for Ethnographic Field Notes urges, “Only those phrases actually quoted verbatim should be placed between quotation marks; all others should be recorded as indirect quotations or paraphrases” (63). Not wanting to misquote somebody, I furiously wrote down (abbreviating where necessary) dialogue that I felt was crucial to my topics, and when I blogged about the event, I made sure to put the words of the experts into quotations. When I could only remember bits and pieces of what they said, or a jist of their advice, I neglected the use of quotation marks because it would have been inappropriate. Instead, I paraphrased or put a comma without quotation marks. The doctor at the tattoo laser removal booth was excellent practice for me. I wrote down his words in particular because as he was explaining the removal process to Susette, I was learning. It was like “Tattoo Removal 101,” and I tried to absorb as much as I could.

My online interviews were also heavily influenced by the readings from class. Going back to Postmodern Interviewing, when I conducted several e-mail interviews, I looked towards this advice: “answers are not meant to be conclusive, but instead serve to further the agenda for discussion…a team effort.” While I sent the four respondents the same questions via Facebook messaging, their answers all varied, and I analyzed those answers in order to send follow-up questions via e-mail. In this way, their answers were not the end of the road, but rather lended themselves to “further[ing] the agenda of discussion,” as Postmodern Interviewing indicates.

Overall, after conducting both in-person and online interviews as well as going out into the field for my outings, it is clear that interviewing is not a “one size fits all” process. What works for one interview or outing may or may not fit another interview or outing. Thus, Gubrium’s idea that “ownership can be a joint or collaborative manner” (41) holds true. If interviewing is truly a “joint or collaborative” process, then no two interviews will be exactly alike because each person brings something new to the table.

Hmm..table. Perhaps now it’s time to eat. And sleep.

The way I feel, courtesy Google Images

The way I feel after learning so much, courtesy Google Images

Post Online Interview: E-mail

Courtesy Google Images

Courtesy Google Images

My expectations going into this interview were to find out more about tattoos and about the way people with tattoos get treated. The interview with Carol was similar to my expectations in that she answered each question that I had asked with a thorough response. When comparing online interviewing with in-person interviewing, I noticed that e-mail interviewing lends itself to getting clear-cut answers. Since the questions are directly in front of the person, it is convenient for them to shape their answer around the inquiries. Without me contributing anything to the discussion, which is what I did in the in-person interviews as suggested in Postmodern Interviewing, Carol was able to keep the focus entirely on her background with tattoos without pausing or being influenced in any way by my contributions to the conversation. What was different from what I expected about the interview was that Carol told me something very personal when discussing the tattoos that she had. I felt honored that she shared that information with me. I am not sure if I would be comfortable telling a stranger something about my personal life, and I appreciated the fact that she did that with me.

From the interview (which included a follow-up e-mail), I learned that Carol is a pediatric nurse who does not have tattoos in visible areas. While she wants more tattoos (she currently has two), she would not get them in visible areas. When she indicated she had to refrain from getting the tattoos in visible areas, I asked a follow-up question about whether or not it was written in their policy for tattoos to remain hidden. She indicated that her work does prohibit visible tattoos and that failure to recognize this policy could result in a loss of her job.

While I do not have any more follow-up questions for Carol, I have spoken with several proponents of tattoos in the workplace (Carol being one of them.) I would like to speak with someone who disagrees with tattoos in the workplace and have a discussion about why. Therefore, I hope that next I will speak with an employer or business owner and dig deep about their policies and the reasoning behind them.

What was successful about the interview was the depth of information with which Carol provided me. She answered my questions succinctly and generously tuned me into the meaning behind her tattoos and ideas for future tattoos. In regards to strategies discussed in Postmodern Interviewing, “From the Individual Interview to the Interview Society” discusses a type of asymmetrical encounter in which “participants have different functions: One side asks questions and records information, and the other side provides answers to the questions asked” (37). In this case, an e-mail interview can certainly be considered “asymmetrical” since both sides, or “participants” are not engaging on a multi-level conversation. Instead, there is a set list of questions to which the respondent offers information. I do feel that this worked out well, as Carol enlightened me with many things about her life as a nurse with tattoos and the significance of each tattoo.

Courtesy Google Images

Courtesy Google Images

Drilling Down the…Drills?

Taking a different spin on tattoos, I delved into scholarly articles that were, well, scholarly. In the following blog post, I analyze three different articles that begin by discussing tattoo kits used in Maori culture and ultimately end up with cutting instruments of Maori culture. They each cite one another, and I will comment on their similarities and differences.

The first article, “Tattoo in Transition: A Post-European Maori Tattooing Kit” by J.B. Palmer is found in The Journal of the Polynesian Society and was published in 1958. Outdated? It would appear so. Until I turned the cover page and read the material. The article focuses on the “period of change in post-European Maori culture” (387) and discusses how the European invasion influenced the culture of the Maori in relation to their “technologies,” or tools, at that time. The article gives an in-depth look to the tattooing kit of the Maori (and presents a diagram of this) and how the tattoo kit changed due to European influence, noting that the invasion “resulted in the disappearance of men’s tattoos” (389). While the article provided definitions for each tool, it also delved into the significance of each tool.

To spin off of this article, Palmer then cites the second article I read, “Terminology for the Ground Stone Cutting-Implements in Polynesia” by Peter H. Buck, Kenneth P. Emory, H.D. Skinner, and John F.G. Stokes. It was published, too, by The Journal of the Polynesian Society and appeared in 1930. Again, seemingly outdated, but since the time period they are studying is in the past, the information they disseminate is relevant today. The first article cites this article by indicating what the definition of a chisel is, as defined by Buck et al. When reading the second article, I noted that it provides definitions of certain cutting implements in the Polynesian culture, such as “edge,” “bevel,” “gouge,” etc. These two articles are in conversation with one another because the first article uses the second as a means to define the significance of the chisel as it proves their topic of post-European Maori culture, and the chisel is a direct example of how the European influence changed their cutting methods. Both of these articles provide a diagram of the different cutting utensils. While seemingly insignificant, using the second article’s definition was critical to the first article’s analysis of the European influence as the definition validated the point they were making.

The third article, “Stone Implements of Pitcairn Island” by Kenneth P. Emory, published by The Journal of the Polynesian Society in 1928,while written first, uses two strategies the aforementioned articles use: terminology and analysis. Emory’s article defines key cutting implements (while, also, including diagrams of each utensil), but then takes that terminology and builds on it to indicate what the tools hint at about the Polynesian culture. For example, after describing and defining “adze,” a cutting tool, Emory elaborates the definition by including an analysis of what the tool indicates: “the apparent prototype of the adze with a tang at an angle to the blade, gives grounds for the assumption that the development of the angled adze took place outside of Hawaii” (126). Here, Emory defines the tool but gives grounds for the greater meaning behind the tool.

All three articles seem to be in conversation with one another because they pool the definitions of the stone cutting tools, yet they deviate in their assumptions of the tools and the greater meaning. Where Buck et al. provide only definitions of stone cutting tools, Palmer and Emory dive deeper and discuss what the tools can show us about history. Palmer takes advantage of the post-European invasion and discusses what the cutting tools suggest about the shift in Maori culture, and Emory analyzes the specific dimensions of each cutting tool and looks towards what it indicates about history. Thus, they all rely on one another for the definitions, but each takes its own unique spin.

I noticed that all three articles refer to sources found in The Journal of the Polynesian Society and did not seem to deviate from different publications. I noted, too, that some of the same authors were reference throughout all three articles, and Kenneth P. Emory contributed to two of the articles mentioned. Despite the fact that Emory serves on two articles, each article is noticeably different in their purpose and implications, and I did not feel that he was saying the same thing in both articles.