Part of the QualMIP series, introduced here.

This week marked a transition point for QualMIP. Instead of doing exercises that focused on particular aspects/types of qualitative fieldwork (artifact analysis, interviews, observations), we are transitioning into fieldwork for the group's project (site: social dancing venues).

This week's report has 2 parts: (1) Debrief from last week's scavenger hunt and (2) what's happening in the transition to focusing on the project.

Debrief from last week's scavenger hunt

Last week's scavenger hunt was... fun. One of my (unstated) working hypotheses for this group independent study is that I should err on the side of too little scaffolding rather than too much. Instead of pre-loading them with a lot of information about document/artifact analysis, I wanted to get them into doing it, knowing that they'd play around. Afterwards, we stepped back and look at what they had done. My job is mostly to give them language for the techniques they independently invented so that they can hook their ideas to broader qualitative methodology literature.

As it turned out, today's theme was postmodernist ideas/language, largely because that's where my brain is these days. Here's what we played with:


  1. Everything is a text that can be analyzed, not just things that are "words on paper." (This is one of Derrida's famous ideas.) That old copy of the Honor Code? Text, obviously. But the arrangement of the Honor Code copies on the display wall? Also text! The machine shop punchcard, the photo of the dining hall in 2003, the words we spoke today in 2016, the clothes on people's bodies? Also text. During the scavenger hunt, Emily and Cesar were analyzing all these things and more. There aren't hard boundaries on what you may and may not examine in document/artifact analysis.
  2. The idea of intertextuality -- that texts are entangled with/in each other. (In other words, there aren't absolute hard boundaries between texts, either.) For instance, the Honor Code's 2003 and 2016 versions are... one document? Two documents? The 2003 document's traces clearly show up in the 2016 ones, but there are differences. If we add the github page that tracks the differences between the versions, that page links to the 2003 and 2016 versions as "separate" documents... but now, how many texts do we have? One? (The Honor Code!) Two? (The Honor code in 2003 and 2016!) Three? (The 2003 version, the 2016 version, and the diff page!) All the questions! Allllll the questions.
  3. The shifting-ness of meaning and words, which I wrote about recently. Each seemingly innocuous or simple artifact (even just a phrase or word) has winding rabbit-holes of depth, but it is difficult to see this depth without context. Things we dismiss as ordinary or fancy-schmancy and simply drift by... often have depths behind them; the long-winded plaque declaring that "Wherefore, Formally Named Person has Contributed to the Success of XYZ" or the terse piece explaining changes to a policy are likely to have aeons of hidden stories and complex discussions behind them. (Another overarching thesis of this independent study: NOTHING IS BORING.)


When Paige raised the question of how to capture/represent history, I almost brought up the map-territory relation, but decided we didn't have enough time.

Transition to project

Cesar, Emily, and Paige drove most of this discussion about goals and scheduling, and the end result (from my perspective) was (1) we know we have too many ideas and don't know how to scope yet, (2) let's do fieldwork for 4 weeks and then figure out deliverables, and (3) this is still kind of a mess.

I was suppressing a grin the whole time. It's hard to resist the temptation to jump in and scaffold them and tell them what to do, and instead let them figure it out themselves. The tension and discomfort is pretty obvious -- it's not bad, they're handling it well, and in hindsight I should have let them know earlier that the tension/uncertainty is absolutely normal and exactly what they're supposed to be practicing.

That, plus... there are so many ways in which they both are and aren't on the same page, and I suspect this will come out in the next few weeks. Excellent. Also, I know they're probably reading this blog post right now. Also excellent. (Hi, team!)

Next week's assignment is to bring whatever public subsets of their private fieldnotes they want to share with the team, prepared with whatever annotation/questions/context-in-general they think would be of help (aka "don't just photocopy a page from your notebook with handwriting we can't read; make it readable, give us context, tell us what you want to do with it.") We're going to get our hands dirty and spend most of our time in the next few weeks in everybody's data, seeing where things shape up.