interview

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

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Tattoos: Areas to be covered

…Information wise, that is. The following is a list of events and interviews that will increase my immersion in the tattoo field:

  • Interview teacher with a tattoo (in-person): completed on Friday, 3/21
  • Interview tattoo artist via e-mail: questions sent Saturday, 3/22
  • Attend Skindustry Expo in Allentown, PA: attended Sunday, 3/23
  • Interview administrator with a tattoo in person: Wednesday, 3/26
  • Interview online found tattoo-bearer: questions to be sent by Monday, 3/24
  • Attend a local tattoo shop (not including the name until I get their permission to use it): tentative date, Wednesday, 4/16
  • Other events to be added

Stay posted!

Fieldnote Extravaganza: Post One

Bookstore Field Notes, page 1

Bookstore Fieldnotes, page 1

Here we go. The following is my first attempt at translating my fieldnotes (taken at a bookstore) into full, descriptive sentences.

There were three total students sitting at the tables on the second floor of the bookstore. There was one student per table. Out of the three students present, two were white females, and one was a white male. Out of the three students, one of the females and the male were on laptops; the other female was working out of a notebook. The chairs situated at each table (two per table) were old-fashioned looking. They had double arm rests and, in the middle of the backing of the chair, a distressed Rowan crest was visible, giving the area in which the chairs resided an “old, cozy library” feel. The fact that each table housed only two chairs made me wonder about the traffic the upstairs portion accumulates. That is, two chairs per table does not lend itself to practical group work. Though groups could rearrange chairs, it seemed, based on the frail, antique quality of the chairs, rearranging anything would be frowned upon. Thus, it would be logical to assume that students interested in working individually would come to this location. After taking in the desks, chairs, and people, I realized I had taken in enough of the area to get a general feel and decided to start walking around.

Bookstore Field Notes, page 3

Bookstore Fieldnotes, page 2

I continued moving through the area from left to right. I made my way over to a shelf that housed calculators, pens, highlighters, and other basic writing needs. I saw a white male around twenty years old with blond, honey-wheat hair that was spiked up in front and who was meandering through the aisles silently. He was wearing a blue zip-up sweatshirt. He was walking around silently, and I wanted to approach him, introduce myself as a research student and ask, “Can you tell me what you are doing here?” Unfortunately, I could not will myself to do it. Though he looked over a few times, I stared at the pens as though they were very interesting. When he walked away, I felt a mixture of disappointment and relief.

I walked through an aisle completely devised of binders on both sides of the shelves. Half of the binders had “Rowan University” stamped on them, and the other half were plain, colored binders. The row looked very neat and stacked.

As I continued walking, I hit a row marked “Study Aides.” There were books on the ACT, AP 2014 Exam, LSATs, GREs, and GMATs. At first, I wondered why there were AP exam books, as everyone who goes to Rowan has already passed high school and then realized that the bookstore is open to the public, as well, and anyone living in the surrounding area interested in these subjects would be able to access them.

Fresh Canvas, Clean Slate

My body matches my research – clean surface, no markings, a canvas ready to learn. Just as my skin is free of stencils and ink, my mind is like a fresh sketchbook: filled with blank pages that soon will be laced with information, insight, and a continued appreciation.

There are several realms and topics within tattoos that I could investigate. This post will sort through ideas that I have in regard to beginning my research. While I intend to organize my thoughts, I am treating this research blog much like I treat teaching: I state now that I am not in control of where my research takes me. Teaching has proven that any amount of planning can always get erased by an outside force–inclement weather, a last-minute assembly, or a brilliant comment made by a student that switches the gears of the entire lesson. Therefore, I am laying out my ideas, but always in the back of my mind is the thought, “This can always get thrown off, and that is okay.”

Behind Door Number One: On Thursday, February 20, 2014 I attended a local workshop in South Jersey with two other eighth grade teachers. The room was freezing, the folding chairs were like sitting on metal bleachers, and the presenters were as fascinating as watching slugs race. The workshop itself was geared towards middle and high school students and attempted to highlight the economic demand for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workers. Essentially, the workshop attempted to deter teachers from suggesting students enter fields such as psychology, philosophy, or any type of liberal arts field because they will not make money, and the need for workers is not present in those fields.

As an English teacher, I rolled my eyes. And yawned. And held my tongue as my field continued to get bashed. However, one topic the presenters addressed was tattoos in the workplace and, more specifically, during interviews. The presenters surmised that having a visible tattoo will eliminate any chance of getting hired because of the level of competition that those without tattoos bring to the table. One of the areas I am highly considering to research is tattoos in the workplace. In what fields is it acceptable to have a tattoo, and one that is visible? In what field is it frowned upon, and in what type of business is it not allowed? And why? What is it about tattoos that scares employers?

These questions lead me to Door Number Two: What images are socially acceptable? And, as such, in what locations on the body does society deem appropriate, and why? Where would a huge spider tattoo on the back of one’s calf measure up against a flower on the top right of the back? While there will be some who interpret each tattoo differently, it seems as though society has deemed certain people with certain images on certain locations as Untouchables. Why?

Door Number Three deals with athletes. I don’t have to have ESPN on longer than thirty seconds before a picture of an athlete comes up sporting a tattoo. In basketball especially (where more skin is exposed than football, baseball, or hockey), players run around the court with their forearms, necks, and legs coated in tattoos. Check out Chris Andersen, “Birdman,” and I rest my case. Why are there so many athletes with tattoos? And why is it acceptable for basketball players to run up and down the court covered in ink when it is not acceptable for business men and women?

Door Number Four attempts to analyze the motivation behind tattoos. What lies behind the need for something to permanently remain on the body? Why do some people memorialize family members while others hop into parlors giggling and saying, “I don’t really know what I want. Maybe a heart or a flower or something.”

As of now, these are the areas that I will most likely focus. Of course, a new idea could completely shift my attention. Bring on the colors. And the Birdman.