Writing About Patchwork Ethnography

Since my last blog post, I have begun analyzing data from fieldwork conducted over the last year, and working toward outlining a chapter of my dissertation following this analysis. While outlining, I have been feeling a particular stuckness around writing about the fragmented nature of fieldwork during COVID-19. During this time, I have frequently returned to a number of methodological questions, particularly since the uninterrupted months of ethnographic work that I had initially planned were interrupted by several pandemic-related developments. Working through the pandemic to reconfigure what I had previously thought of as both my field sites and fieldwork methods, I realized that the pandemic represented a disruption that did not simply mean the movement of all that would have happened in-person to an online space. Instead, it raised several questions for me: how had I defined my field previously, and what would shift now when I located myself and my participants virtually? What methods would continue to allow for an attention to ethnography’s classic thick description, amidst the many ways in which COVID has continued to reconfigure my participants’ lives and my own? Between the fragmentation of our many virtual worlds, how might thickness itself come to be reconfigured? And finally, how might these insights influence not only fieldwork decisions and practices during this moment, but also those in future times?

As I work through this feeling of being stuck, I have found the patchwork ethnography manifesto by Gokce Gunel, Saiba Verma and Chika Watanabe to be particularly generative in thinking about how many of ethnography’s assumptions about long-term, in-person fieldwork may not always prove to be feasible. Gunel, Verma and Watanabe conceptualize patchwork ethnography as a “new theoretical and methodological approach,” consisting of “a set of ethnographic processes and protocols designed around short-term field visits, using fragmentary yet rigorous data, and other innovations that resist the fixity, holism, and certainty demanded in the publication process (2020). To this end, the authors also raise a few questions about how various components of the ethnographic process can be reshaped. Of particular interest to my writing in this chapter has been their fourth question in the manifesto: “How does the method of patchwork ethnography rethink the temporalization of data collection and analysis?” As the authors acknowledge, writing and fieldwork are typically imagined as linear, separate processes, and I found this question generative for its acknowledgement that the two often can – and do – happen alongside each other. I also found it particularly helpful to sit with their call to re-think linear temporal engagements with one’s fieldwork, one’s presence on the field, and by extension the field itself. How might data analysis and writing work with (or against) a range of temporal notions about data collection?

In my next post, I hope to work toward a fuller version of the chapter, and to expand upon how this question has been fruitful to engage with in my own research and writing. I look forward to drawing upon scholarship from disability studies as I outline the ways in which crip time might allow for an expansive engagement with ethnographic fieldwork and writing.

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About kimfernandes5

I am a PhD candidate in Education and Anthropology. I am primarily interested in the anthropology of disability and technology, with a focus on India. Prior to beginning my PhD at Penn, I worked in monitoring and evaluation, education and development. I have an undergraduate degree in International Politics (Honors) from Georgetown University, as well as graduate degrees in International Education Policy from Harvard University and in Statistics, Measurement, Assessment and Research Technologies from Penn.