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 PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, EDUCATION (education.oxfordre.com). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 15 November 2018

Summary and Keywords

Researchers from various disciplines collect and generate field notes as a strategy to describe and reflect (through texts, photos, drawings, diagrams, or recordings) the complexity they face when addressing entangled and many-faceted phenomena. Field notes are as common research strategy not only to capture and amass instantly what researchers listen to, observe, think, and feel, but also to make explicit their reflexivity process, based on their observations and experiences. Field notes are not only a method for generating evidence, but a reflection of the ontological, epistemological, methodological, and ethical positionality that guide the researcher’s gaze. Paradoxically, although field notes are something most researchers use and are fundamental in their reports and publications, they are generally the hidden and idiosyncratic side of academic field work.

The preparation of field notes is an extremely intricate issue, as the very same meaning, purposes, and roles of field notes heavily rely on the ethnographer’s onto-epistemological positioning. It is useful, then to contextualize field notes within the tradition of ethnography, without ignoring the fact that they are used in a wide range of disciplines (including anthropology, deology, architecture, geography, ethology, archaeology, and biology). It is also important to problematize the practice of taking, collecting, and generating field notes by taking into account the fact that the traditional vision of field notes as written (alphabetic) notes is being challenged by the availability of mobile applications that enable researchers to create and organize multimodal information. It is important to note the relevance of the so-called “headnotes,” as there are many impressions, scenes, and experiences that cannot be written down or can be difficult or impossible to document. In addition, the text goes beyond the reflection of interaction by introducing the notion of intra-action to overcome the metaphysics of individualism underlying conventional understandings of “interactions.” The growing multiplicity of languages, modes, and means of expression and communication must be examined alongside the strengths and limitations of multimodal field notes. Finally, the practice of keeping field notes requires a recognition of the reflexivity imbedded in this process. Field diaries can be seen as the first step toward ethnographic reporting, and here reflexivity becomes a fundamental part of the analyses involved.

Keywords: ethnography, field work, reflexivity, matter, visual methods, positionalities, entanglement, intra-action, field diary

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