I'm currently not working in an anthropological capacity, per se, but I am functioning as a recording secretary for the assessment body at the university for which I work.
As a result, I have the opportunity to apply my training in speech-in-action observation, at least to a limited degree. Generally, I'll produce anywhere from 4 to 7 pages of typed, single space narrative, given the length of the meeting (anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour).
As part of the process, I submit those written narratives to the committee co-chairs for review before I send them out to the committee (ultimately so they can approve the minutes in the next meeting). Sharing those narratives with the co-chairs and with the committee members has been somewhat instructive, highlighting (at least to me) certain advantages and pitfalls of collaborating in such a project. It should be noted that there is a definite hierarchy set into place here, in which I have to defer to those "above" me in the workplace structure; so, the sharing of these "field notes" is not an ethical issue, as it might be when conducting ethnographic fieldwork, but rather a compulsory part of the job description.
The single advantage that I can see is that I will occasionally have clarification for discrepancies (for example, I recently misspelled a program Dean's name).
However, the pitfalls seem pretty significant. Chief among them is the tendency for the co-chairs to say one thing in the meeting, then to amend my notes in the revisions. In the process, they do end up clarifying the process or issue under consideration in the dialogue; yet in adding those clarifications, they end up appending comments that weren't actually made, verbatim, during the actual events of the meetings. As a result, the record that I am producing is not clarified, but rather obscured, from a technical standpoint.
What I mean to say is that statements are then recorded that are in line with the ideal functioning of the process under consideration, but which can't possibly be a part of anyone's memories of the event (because they were never actually uttered in the course of the meeting's dialogue).
Also, I've recorded executive level administrators in certain turns of phrase, only to have them grumble about it later, as conversational, in situ dialogue seldom looks polished on paper.
It seems to me that, when in the course of dialogue and interaction, participants solve problems in a contextualized manner. However, given the chance to review what I have recorded of their words and actions (and how I have done so), those I am working with tend to have the impulse to "amend" my observations to be "correct." My thought is that this impulse provides additional insight on the "ethnographic" level, but tends to compromise the validity of my recordings on the "field notes" level.
On top of all these considerations, I have to at least admit to the possibility that I had indeed not accurately recorded what was said. This last point, though I think vital to a sober methodology, tends to complicate matters quite a bit, even when I'm certain that one thing was, indeed, said, causing a divergence between what I know to be accurate and what the "informant" is telling me is accurate.
I'm reminded of Smadar Lavie's chagrin over working with Haj Khantarishe (sp?!) in The Poetics of Military Occupation.
Has anyone else had similar dilemmas in actual fieldwork? What are your attitudes toward such an occurrence? How have you resolved this dilemma, if you have at all?
John, thank you for your thoughts.
How about within fieldnotes that are more squarely ethnographic in scope?
My understanding is that ethnographic fieldnotes are not something commonly presented for anyone but the ethnographer herself to see. In such a case, is there still an issue with sharing your fieldnotes with informants/interlocutors, such that they might insist that you change your fieldnote observations to be more "accurate?"
Has anyone had to deal with that issue? If so, what are your thoughts on benefits and pitfalls?