Sorry for the long absence. I fell into the final moments of my fieldwork at the same time I started re-reading all of my fieldnotes from two and a half years of chunks of fieldwork. Needless to say, I went looking for the forest and face-planted on a few trees in the meantime.
First, I would like to respond to Scott’s post. As with most reading, I have to come back multiple times to a text before I start to really appreciate what is being said. I think you definitely captured my intention with my Excel spreadsheet when you wrote about how this method of data retention allows me to “visualize the qualitative aspects of my data;” yes, definitely, that is what I am after.
I returned to New York over the winter break and met with some of the professors on my committee. I offered up my Excel spreadsheet for criticism and feedback, while I tried to verbalize what my intentions in creating the spreadsheet included. I want to visualize my data, initially, as a huge spider web, with the words that appear most frequently as condensed centers from which branch off words that appear less frequently. I think I can connect these big centers to specific avenues of thought in anthropology (in my case, something around empathy, gender, and space). Anthropologists working in other contexts are also talking about, for example, empathy, gender, and space, and my hope is to offer comparative data from the particular context in which I am working. So I may contribute to specific conversations about empathy, gender, and space, as well as conversations about the intersections between empathy, gender, and space, all from the novel perspective afforded by my work among people who take animals seriously in the context of practices designed to ameliorate emotional suffering. Anthropology is supposed to be comparative and holistic; I am doing my best to remain responsible to that initial and basic impulse.
In one revealing conversation, one professor said that what I am doing with my Excel spreadsheet is not coding, but indexing. What I think I understand is that while my index of terms and phrases will populate and create the spider web, the condensed centers in the web will be the codes.
Given my understanding of this important difference between indices and codes, I better understand your comments about the crucial importance of maintaining the context and the “overall sentiment of conversations,” insofar as “adding a few lines of summary/observation of the interaction helps facilitate other forms of coding.” I hear you. Can you say more? What other forms of coding are you thinking about?
I am maintaining two separate documents, in addition to the spreadsheet. One document includes fieldnotes that are primarily reflective. Still data, but much more emotional, much more obviously laden with my own self. The other document is a bunch of short notes, brief thoughts that feel like inspiration, where somehow my brain threads through a connection between ideas, thoughts, words, phrases, pictures, and sensations that had previously appeared shapeless. I say this in an attempt to nod to your process of maintaining “two levels of dialogue- what actually happens, and my little inner monologue.” I think that is brilliant and absolutely necessary and helpful.