more on fieldwork blog removal

I’ve been meaning to finish this for ages so let me just tidy it up and post now.

I’m replying here to Language Hat’s comment about my removing my fieldwork blog (an extract):

Sounds like the unnamed, allegedly aggrieved party is hypersensitive and you have nothing to apologize for. If you feel you need to make changes for your own peace of mind, I guess that’s your decision, but it feels uncomfortably like censorship to me.

Yes, in ‘normal’ relations this would be the case, I think, but there are some complications because this was about fieldwork. Here are some random issues that came up.

  1. IRB and community approval. Although these were not my field notes, and I did have permission to post what I posted from the relevant parties (or so I thought), many of the posts relate directly to my interaction with community members and work which involved ‘human subjects’ and for which I did need IRB approval, and explicit ‘community’ permission. So if the ladies I worked with had not been happy about my posting about our work, they could have said no and I would be bound by that, in the same way that I am bound by their decisions on publication (and they, in a sense, are bound by mine too). I have since found out that the person who objected had not had access to the blog itself, and did not know that I had permission from other community members (and had assumed the worst). So yes, it is somewhat like censorship, but I think if I were part of a project and others were posting about it, I’d want to know what was said about me if I could be identified in any way.
  2. Fieldnote status. I did not think of the blog as fieldnotes, since I was keeping my own notes which included a lot of information which I would never write about on a blog. I kept the notes for two reasons – to let family and friends know what I was up to, and to give students an idea of what fieldwork is like so that it might not be so daunting (and I got numerous positive comments about this aspect of the blog). Another reason I didn’t think of the posts as fieldnotes was because more than half of it was about me, and I’m not up enough with the new ethnography to think that this is necessarily what we should be doing with our field experiences (time was when the anthro would go into the field and describe the ‘other’, now they go into the field and write about their own experiences, a type of autoethnography, but neither is what I do). Raw fieldnotes have a lot of information which the researcher would want to keep confidential, but I deliberately did not write here about anything like that.
  3. Identification – I used initials, on the grounds that anything who knew anything about Milingimbi would be able to identify the participants no matter how I disguised their names, and anyone who didn’t but wanted to find out would be hard-pressed to do so unless they went there in person, but if they did it would be easy whether I disguised them or not. My model for this is Keen’s Knowledge and Society in Aboriginal Religion, where pseudonyms are used but it’s still obvious to me who he’s talking about. Someone objected on the grounds that the initials were traceable. My point is that they’d be traceable no matter what, and in any case everyone I talked to wanted to be identified as working on the project and contributing to the documentation of their language.
  4. 218 years of exploitation. There is still a great deal of mistrust and assumption going on. e.g. several people assumed that I had not asked permission before writing these notes and that was the cause of quite a bit of anger and bitterness. I think a great deal of this goes back to earlier researcher/community mistrust, and assumptions in all community complaints that the researcher must have behaved badly.

5 responses to “more on fieldwork blog removal

  1. Thanks for the explanation; that’s extremely interesting. I certainly understand about the historical “anger and bitterness,” and it’s important to act in such a way as to avoid adding to that — which you clearly do. What bothers me is the slippery slope; sure, if someone you actually quoted objected, that would be important to resolve, but this awakens all my darkest fears of suppression and censorship:

    I have since found out that the person who objected had not had access to the blog itself, and did not know that I had permission from other community members (and had assumed the worst).

    [I’m adding quotes as well as ital tags because I don’t know whether the latter works and there’s no preview. If the tags work, it will look funny. Oh well.]

    Paranoia may be understandable, but that doesn’t mean it should be catered to. And the whole indigenous-rights thing can go right over the border into lunacy; I’m still furious about the suppression of scientific research into human remains that demonstrably had no connection to the Northwestern tribes that claimed the bones as their own because they happened to inhabit the region today. But you may be more tolerant of this sort of thing.

  2. Hey,
    I love what you’e doing!
    Don’t ever change and best of luck.

    Raymon W.

  3. I’m not quite understanding what all
    this is supposed to be about?
    Must be me or something…

  4. Wow, there is some really nice info here.
    I’ll definitely come back soon to see everything.
    Way to go! ;-)


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