The Fieldnote

Small places, large issues. Politics, society and culture understood through the notes of anthropologists.


Choosing Sides: Doing Interviews in a Divided Field

“You are not going to agree with this, but I voted leave.” A participant in my research told me this early on in an interview. I had not shared with her my personal opinion on the EU, but from my accent (which does not sound Scottish) she discerned I was from continental Europe and decided that I probably did not agree with Brexit. During interviews I am not trying to find out how the interviewee voted in the EU referendum, but it is a difficult topic to avoid when discussing Europe. Navigating a divided field In the past six years, the Scottish people have taken part in two divisive referendums. In 2014 they were asked whether Scotland should become an independent state (55% chose to remain part of the UK) and in 2016 they were asked whether the UK should remain a member of the EU (in Scotland, 62% chose to remain part of the EU). Both referendums left a significant mark on the current political landscape in Scotland. My research focusses on the personal dimension of this: how do Scottish people, in particular supporters of Scottish independence, identify with Europe and what does the concept of Europe mean to them. To do this, it is important for me to get beyond the results of the referendums in my fieldwork, but this is not always straightforward. The problem with discussing politics in Scotland today is that opinions are immediately pigeonholed into the answers of the referendums: participants in my research often identify themselves (and others) first as yes/no or remain/leave. It is of course uncommon that reality is as binary as that: it is a messy and personal calculation of values, beliefs, influences and experiences. Participants are hardly ever completely yes or remain without a conditional but. To get a result which is valuable for my research, I aim to break through the referendum replies as early as possible in the interviews and uncover what is hidden below. Placing myself in the field At the same time as providing us with an opportunity to research beyond the suggested binaries of the referendums, ethnographic fieldwork forces the researcher to reflect on his/her own connection to the communities being researched. In my case, that reflection starts by asking and being asked where I fit on the yes/no, leave/remain spectrum. I have experimented with sharing my own opinions on these matters and keeping them to myself during fieldwork. Sharing my stance can have different effects: if it is in agreement with the participant, the interview feels more at ease, resulting in a form of ‘safe space’ which can be highly beneficial for...

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Wanted: A Mother of Cultural Studies

As a cultural anthropologist with a historical perspective, I really wonder: where are all the women in the history of our critical, self-reflective discipline?

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Lost in Malmö. Or: The Ever-changing Imaginations of a City
Jan30

Lost in Malmö. Or: The Ever-changing Imaginations of a City

There are different things you notice about a city. They depend on your starting point or your destination, on the purpose of you being there, and of course on yourself – your experiences and prehistory with and of the city itself and other places, your anticipations and imaginations.[1] Sometimes, we just like to dream of other places and try to imagine what it would be like to live or at least go there. The first time I ever went to Malmö was in 2015. I was visiting Sweden as a tourist and I was just amazed by how quiet this city was, how less traffic there seemed to be compared to what I’m used to. Malmö gave me the impression of a cosy, little city. Over the time, this perspective, the feeling of walking through the city, changed. Imagining cities Fantasy and imagination are important parts of every modern society and they have an even more significant effect in the present social life, because of the process of deterritorialization of persons and ideas. Mass media, for example, made it easier for people not only to look at different possible lifestyles, but also to imagine living somewhere else. Fantasy and imagination are social practice, they are an inspirational force for the social lives of people.[2] We make up our own imaginations of different places, and of course those imaginations are not static, they change overtime and through experiences. With each visit to Malmö, I started recognizing the size of the city: not as big as a metropolis like the nearby Copenhagen, but also not a small town. It felt like a middle-sized city. When I started to explore the whole city – by train, bus, and foot – I suddenly felt lost and not cosy at all. I did not feel the same way about Malmö as I did before. View over Malmö I always travel to Malmö via airplane to Copenhagen for certain reasons, one of them being the Öresund bridge; driving over the bridge from Copenhagen to Malmö is always a nice experience. During my last flight to Copenhagen, the wind and weather of that day forced the plane to fly over the coast of Malmö. The sky above the east sea was clear, so I was able to see what was going on at the ground. It took me a while to realize that the city I was looking at was Malmö – one can always identify the Turning Torso. As I was watching the city from above, it reminded me of Orvar Löfgren’s description of different perceptions of landscapes depending on the mode of transportation: from...

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Playing Masculinity

How stigmatization, feminist critique and a crisis of masculinity push male players towards the alt-right.

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Sisyphus and the American Dream
Jan02

Sisyphus and the American Dream

The Cyber-utopia is dead – long live the Cyber-heterotopia! The digital era didn’t deliver on its promises of emancipating humanity and the optimistic visions attributed to online technology turned predominantly into capitalistic and totalitarian nightmares. Here is why we should have a breather before we start to smash our devices and bury them somewhere far, far away.

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Of Closing Doors and Dead Ends. Why Extremism will not Disappear if we Ignore it
Dec19

Of Closing Doors and Dead Ends. Why Extremism will not Disappear if we Ignore it

Populism and extremism of any kind are on the rise in many parts of the world – and Germany is no exception. Wouldn’t it be just the perfect time for the German government to decide on massive budget cuts for political education? What seems like nothing else than bitter irony, affects not only engaged activists and social workers, but also the research being done in this area. A call for research to go where it hurts.

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