Home > Ethnography, Interview > Taking It All in Stride: An Ethnographer’s Guide to Grace in the Field

Taking It All in Stride: An Ethnographer’s Guide to Grace in the Field

February 25, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

We had just finished spending two hours with a handsome, lovely young couple in Boston for our study on facial hygiene. We got a tour of their home and spent a good chunk of our time in their bathroom as we got the skinny on how they each took care of their faces, how they organized the bathroom space and how they navigated the universe of cohabitation. We laughed heartily as they made plenty of jokes and told stories about boogers and nose picking. “I guess it’s good to know you pick your boogies with a Kleenex,” said the wife.

“Well this was fantastic fieldwork!” I thought to myself. Something just clicked with this couple. My colleague and I were excited about visiting them for our second round of fieldwork, which we would use to better understand the patterns that had started to emerge. For our first round we were getting a broad understanding of facial hygiene and how facial tissue fits into that. For the second, we would hone in on some of the themes that would be most beneficial to our client’s business objectives. It was a really fun project.

We gathered our little camera and engaged in the appropriate goodbye. I started out the door but it stuck. “Oh, you just have to give it a tug,” said the wife. In any participant’s home we take the path of least insistence, so I quickly moved out of the way to let her open her door. I certainly didn’t want to break anything. She opened the door. “Bye, thanks again!” I said, and I took a fervent step forward.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you feel like, “Hey, I’ve got it going on today. I look good, I feel good, I am the [wo]man!” only to trip on the sidewalk in a very compromising sort of way?

I do. My fervent step forward launched me head first into their screen door, the one I know existed because I opened it to walk into their house when we arrived. Like a caterpillar caught in a spiderweb, the more I tried to fight my way off the screen door the more my head, arms and legs entangled. I ripped the door, and not just the screen but the entire door, right off its frame.

Have you ever enjoyed that scene from the movie Old School where Will Ferrell gets shot in the neck with a horse tranquilizer dart and then falls in the pool? On his way down everything juuuuuussst ssssllllloooooows doooowwwnnnn. That’s what it felt like for me, because it was only 5 seconds of real time, if that, but I experienced a slow reel of humiliation.

My video camera, cell phone and tapes went flying. I fell flat on my face. “I’m so sorry, I will replace it!” came out of my mouth. My fellow ethnographer stood behind me next to the wife. “Are you ok?” they asked. I looked over at the husband, who stood wide-eyed in the doorway with a mixed expression of utter shock and stifled laughter.

I just kept repeating over and over, “We will replace this, I am so embarrassed.” And we all laughed and laughed. My fellow ethnographer grabbed me by the arm and we walked to the car. I couldn’t contain myself and once we got in the car, neither could she. She laughed for the next 15 minutes as she drove me back to my hotel in Brookline.

We replaced the screen door for our participant. And, they invited us back for the second round of our study. Talk about breaking down barriers to rapport!

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Categories: Ethnography, Interview
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