How do ethnographers collect data? How do they index and retrieve it?
What strategies do they employ to take it across borders, store it in
safe places, and transfer it into different formats? And what tools do
they employ to analyze it?

I'm interested in generating a discussion about what sort of technologies are best for research, including the capturing, categorizing, managing and analyzing data in various text and multimedia formats. Any suggestions or recommendations. What's your setup?


Tags: field, of, research, technologies

Views: 430

Replies to This Discussion

I started using the Livescribe Smartpen for interviews and recommend it to my students as well. It records what you write and what is being said and links them together. After an interview you can tap the pen anywhere on your notes and it will play back the audio from the moment you made that particular pen stroke. All of your notes and audio recordings are transferred to your computer automatically when you charge the pen via USB, and your notes are then searchable as well. I use this in combination with Evernote, which allows me to sort and tag notes. If you have a smartphone, Evernote also allows you to take pictures and upload them directly to Evernote. Any text in the picture is read by Evernote and can be searched later - great for grabbing pictures of rare documents you come across during fieldwork or archival research. Evernote also allows you to encrypt your notes. I might not recommend it for highly sensitive data, given that the data lives online, but that decision would be up to each researcher given the parameters and risks of their own research.
Hi Justin,

I welcome this discussion as it was one of my original reasons for joining the Digital Anthro group. I have worked with what i call Digital Ethnography for a good number of years now, using digital audio, pix, and vid for all of my research projects, and using N*Vivo to analyse them. What i find most helpful about N*Vivo is the way it forces you to create 'arguments' to structure your data. You can then change them (they have a dendritic 'tree' model you can manipulate) to rearrange and create new 'variables' from your coded data. Plus you can code audio and video files.

Is this one of the kinds of question you were looking to address in this forum?

cheers
rhys
I've heard many good things about NVivo, but have yet to work with it personally. Have you heard of Weft QDA? It's similar to NVivo except it's free and open source. I don't think it can handle images or video just quite yet, but it's still under development.

rhys evans said:
Hi Justin,
I welcome this discussion as it was one of my original reasons for joining the Digital Anthro group. I have worked with what i call Digital Ethnography for a good number of years now, using digital audio, pix, and vid for all of my research projects, and using N*Vivo to analyse them. What i find most helpful about N*Vivo is the way it forces you to create 'arguments' to structure your data. You can then change them (they have a dendritic 'tree' model you can manipulate) to rearrange and create new 'variables' from your coded data. Plus you can code audio and video files. Is this one of the kinds of question you were looking to address in this forum?
cheers
rhys
Mike, Thank you for this. It sounds like the perfect fieldwork setup. You also bring up an important issue in how to keep highly sensitive data secure, especially given the possibility of random laptop seizures at customs. I know some people use encryption software, while others use email or FTP. Any other suggestions?

Michael Wesch said:
I started using the Livescribe Smartpen for interviews and recommend it to my students as well. It records what you write and what is being said and links them together. After an interview you can tap the pen anywhere on your notes and it will play back the audio from the moment you made that particular pen stroke. All of your notes and audio recordings are transferred to your computer automatically when you charge the pen via USB, and your notes are then searchable as well. I use this in combination with Evernote, which allows me to sort and tag notes. If you have a smartphone, Evernote also allows you to take pictures and upload them directly to Evernote. Any text in the picture is read by Evernote and can be searched later - great for grabbing pictures of rare documents you come across during fieldwork or archival research. Evernote also allows you to encrypt your notes. I might not recommend it for highly sensitive data, given that the data lives online, but that decision would be up to each researcher given the parameters and risks of their own research.
On the issue of security, Justin, how likely is it that data from a laptop seized in customs would be published in an authorized way? This reminds me of the classical ethnographers who claimed to have lost their field notes (Leach, EP, Gluckman etc), leaving them free to make it all up. I suppose I am asking how securely we have to lock the digital doors and whether that deserves to be a high priority question.

Justin Shaffner said:
Mike, Thank you for this. It sounds like the perfect fieldwork setup. You also bring up an important issue in how to keep highly sensitive data secure, especially given the possibility of random laptop seizures at customs. I know some people use encryption software, while others use email or FTP. Any other suggestions.
Neat thread of conversation Justin! One of my own interests in this vein is the overwhelming dominance of commercial, proprietary technologies in ethnographic and social research settings. While in many scenarios those kind of "solutions" (to use the business term) offer the most in terms of ease-of-use, seamless interface integration, and (sometimes even) technical capabilities, I'm concerned that at some level they're inherently antithetical to a number of academic (or even social justice) principles. I suspect they are contributing to the "locking up" of the products (and means of production) of such research, making them accessible only to those institutions with high enough resources to manage regular "upgrades" to hardware, software, database licenses, high-bandwidth connections, and so on. There are also significant issues (as have been discussed by computer security experts for many years) with entrusting sensitive content to commercial entities, who often have much stronger allegiances with states than with citizens.

One initiative I'm working on at the moment is Anthrodyne, a free, open source operating system for anthropologists and other qualitative researchers. Essentially a customized re-bundling of the popular Kubuntu variant of Linux, it would provide an alternative to Windows and the Mac OS X (for example). In the poster presentation I've proposed for the AAA, I suggest the following for the objectives of the project: 1) to develop a complete, easy-to-use desktop operating system designed specifically with social researchers in mind, 2) to provide a flexible, open framework for the development of new tools and applications of relevance to that community, and 3) to catalyze discussion among such researchers on their information tools, practices, and challenges. I should stress that the project is at a very early stage at the moment, but I mention it as an indicator of a broader conversation quite related to the topic of "technologies of research."
Keith, This is a good question. As far as I can tell there are two issues here. The first being how to transport one's data such that in case one loses one's laptop to customs, a thief or even hard drive failure, there would be a backup. The other issue concerns how to protect highly sensitive fieldwork data, which if exposed could somehow be used against the people we work with. Many corporations and law firms that routinely deal with confidential information often give their travelers forensically clean laptops to travel with. Just a thought.

Keith Hart said:
On the issue of security, Justin, how likely is it that data from a laptop seized in customs would be published in an authorized way? This reminds me of the classical ethnographers who claimed to have lost their field notes (Leach, EP, Gluckman etc), leaving them free to make it all up. I suppose I am asking how securely we have to lock the digital doors and whether that deserves to be a high priority question.
Justin Shaffner said:
Mike, Thank you for this. It sounds like the perfect fieldwork setup. You also bring up an important issue in how to keep highly sensitive data secure, especially given the possibility of random laptop seizures at customs. I know some people use encryption software, while others use email or FTP. Any other suggestions.
Lane, Thanks for sharing this exciting project with us. Anthrodyne sounds like it would make an ideal operating system for fieldwork laptops, whether for a netbook, such as the Asus Eee, or for an older but more powerful and durable Think Pad. I know that Ubuntu distributions are very user-friendly, from install to operation. Can you tell us more about this initiative. Is there a website for the project yet?

Lane DeNicola said:
Neat thread of conversation Justin! One of my own interests in this vein is the overwhelming dominance of commercial, proprietary technologies in ethnographic and social research settings. While in many scenarios those kind of "solutions" (to use the business term) offer the most in terms of ease-of-use, seamless interface integration, and (sometimes even) technical capabilities, I'm concerned that at some level they're inherently antithetical to a number of academic (or even social justice) principles. I suspect they are contributing to the "locking up" of the products (and means of production) of such research, making them accessible only to those institutions with high enough resources to manage regular "upgrades" to hardware, software, database licenses, high-bandwidth connections, and so on. There are also significant issues (as have been discussed by computer security experts for many years) with entrusting sensitive content to commercial entities, who often have much stronger allegiances with states than with citizens.

One initiative I'm working on at the moment is Anthrodyne, a free, open source operating system for anthropologists and other qualitative researchers. Essentially a customized re-bundling of the popular Kubuntu variant of Linux, it would provide an alternative to Windows and the Mac OS X (for example). In the poster presentation I've proposed for the AAA, I suggest the following for the objectives of the project: 1) to develop a complete, easy-to-use desktop operating system designed specifically with social researchers in mind, 2) to provide a flexible, open framework for the development of new tools and applications of relevance to that community, and 3) to catalyze discussion among such researchers on their information tools, practices, and challenges. I should stress that the project is at a very early stage at the moment, but I mention it as an indicator of a broader conversation quite related to the topic of "technologies of research."
Hi Keith

Good question! It is my understanding that in the US, there is a law that requires all encryption software developers to give a copy to the NSA or some other security organisation so they have a decryption key.... I may be wrong about this but i do remember a big fight about it, at any rate.

In my Web2.0 eLearning teaching we are beginning to see proposals for dedicated online storage ('cloud computing' V2.0) but i imagine this is no more secure than physical hardware should the Authorities (with a big 'A') want your data....

As ever, yet another field for the pornographers to roll their sleeves up and develop new systems which the rest of us eventually get around to using -- just like live web cams, pay per view and a whole lot of other software which we now take for granted, which was originally developed by the porn industry!

cheers
rhys


Keith Hart said:
On the issue of security, Justin, how likely is it that data from a laptop seized in customs would be published in an authorized way? This reminds me of the classical ethnographers who claimed to have lost their field notes (Leach, EP, Gluckman etc), leaving them free to make it all up. I suppose I am asking how securely we have to lock the digital doors and whether that deserves to be a high priority question.

Justin Shaffner said:
Mike, Thank you for this. It sounds like the perfect fieldwork setup. You also bring up an important issue in how to keep highly sensitive data secure, especially given the possibility of random laptop seizures at customs. I know some people use encryption software, while others use email or FTP. Any other suggestions.
The domain (anthrodyne.org) has been purchased and an initial site is under development, but nothing live yet. We're considering different hosting options, given the immediate demands and constraints of such a project, but at the moment the main focus is on 1) securing dedicated machines for doing the repackaging and (some degree of) testing the Kubuntu respins, 2) locating the parties interested in the project (through venues like the AAA and, well, this one), and 3) proposals for more substantial funding. To that end, by the way, I'd be interested in hearing of the experience of others who've been engaged in similar IT projects that have a heavy online/hosted component!

But yes, one of the things that's clear right off the bat is that having a system that could be taken into the field and would remain fairly robust is key.

--LD

Justin Shaffner said:
Lane, Thanks for sharing this exciting project with us. Anthrodyne sounds like it would make an ideal operating system for fieldwork laptops, whether for a netbook, such as the Asus Eee, or for an older but more powerful and durable Think Pad. I know that Ubuntu distributions are very user-friendly, from install to operation. Can you tell us more about this initiative. Is there a website for the project yet?
Here's a recommendation courtesy of my friend Giovanni: Mendeley. It apparently allows you to create a bibliography and citation database; manage and annotate research papers; cite while you write; share documents, collaborate, and build your personal research network; and get research paper recommendations & explore research trends. Mendeley is also free and works across OS platforms.
Yes I've heard generally good reviews of Mendeley, and it bears some striking similarities to (and differences) from Zotero (and in fact I've seen a bit of comparison in the Zotero forum). A key distinction, though, is that while Mendeley is "free as in beer," it is also closed source. Typically that will be an important criterion for inclusion in the default distribution, but one beauty of the Anthrodyne concept is that it will be extremely easy to incorporate such alternatives at some level.

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