Home > Process > Exploring Austin: Iteration in Practice by John Kille

Exploring Austin: Iteration in Practice by John Kille

As ethnographers, we get to travel to a lot of new places, but sometimes we visit places we’ve been to before. Recently I went to Austin, Texas, where I had lived four years ago when my oldest daughter was three. In Austin, we were studying young families with young children and how they use their cars, interesting stuff indeed.

I had flashbacks of taking my daughter to the kiddie pool at Travis Heights park, the train in Zilker Park, the fabulous City Museum, as well as just walking around South Congress and getting ice cream from Amy’s (which I did on this trip, yum!). I also got to revisit my understanding of Austin’s family side.

Coming back to Austin four years after I left brought back memories of the sunshine, the good food (I got to eat both Stubbs BAR-B-Q and Guero’s while there) and experiencing that infamous “Keep Austin Weird” vibe. The more we, as ethnographers, get to explore a place and the people inside it, the more we get to know its essence.

I was able to re-explore what I had seen before, and like going through video data and field notes after fieldwork, saw new and exciting things re-visiting Austin.

In ethnography, we undertake an analytical process to explore and re-explore video of our interactions with participants, context mapping video and notes and our hand written field notes to learn what we may have missed the first time. This is the long (and tedious) task of watching and transcribing hours upon hours of video and pouring through our notes. But it’s very fruitful.

For each hour of video, we spend at least 4 hours diving into the data, learning and re-learning. Sure, this is a long process, but it’s what produces the new and exciting insights and answers our clients are searching for.

One of the things that I remembered about Austin and got to explore further in my recent fieldwork was the traffic—bumper to bumper, slow moving, hot, layered with smells of grimy exhaust and diesel fuel, and with lots and lots of BIG trucks. Pick up trucks, SUVs, and semi trucks and trailers rule the road in Texas.

As we were learning about smaller cars and SUVs, we were always riding in them, and at times, I was hoping that a giant pick up truck would not side swipe us at the stoplight. However, families travel a lot in Austin by car, and therefore, they spend hours and hours per week sitting in this stuff. In my revisit to Austin, I gained new perspective and learned more about the traffic that I certainly did not miss, and when I return sometime down the road, I will learn more.

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