Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Audio Elicitation

My idea of audio elicitation, supervised by ethnographic filming, serves the purpose of exploring the various, unique ways subjects interact with music and what the listening experience entails. Unknowingly, I initially performed this method in my first ethnographic film on DJ culture (many of these clips that show audio elicitation were not included in the final version). I asked Sam to explain album covers that he had taped to his wall and I got a brief history of the artist, when he purchased the cd, when he started listening to a particular artist, his thoughts of how they influenced rap music, and so on and so forth. Rather than simply asking one's subject what music they listen to, how they listen to music, when they listen to music, and why they do so, audio elicitation allows the subject to perform his/her listening experience. While the presence of the videocamera is not necessary, I believe that film is the best way to capture every experience that may not be witnessed by human observations. And yes, I do believe with the right camera angles and over a certain amount of time, EVERY experience in this particular situation can be captured by videocamera. It is difficult to explain this idea in a written format since I haven't done too much work expanding the idea and how I might format this method. Look out for a video on audio elicitation soon! ....real soon

Monday, January 3, 2011

Elitist Writing & Frustrated Reading - A Brief Rant

I've always found big words and the idea of expanding one's vocabulary to its highest level fascinating. I would often find synonyms in Microsoft Word to replace "simple/easy" words with terms that were twice as long and sounded intelligent. Over the years, my lexicon became quite expansive, I was able to indulge in conversations and readings on a scholarly level, and I was able to condense a few sentences into a few words. I especially remember grinning ear to ear when my Dad could no longer read any of the material I would write in college essays (This also probably had something to do with the foreign nature of the topic). However, once I got further into my major I began to become more and more frustrated by unexplained terms in anthropology literature. Works by Stuart Hall, Michel Foucault, Paul Stoller, and countless others forced me to reread passages over and over again without gaining much ground. Many of my colleagues felt the same way and resorted to simply listening to the professor's explanation of the text.

I understand anthropology and any other respective discipline has specific terminology that one simply can not and should not have to simply every time. For example, words like 'cultural capital' or 'deterritorialization' must be learned by young scholars as they encompass specific notions, activities, histories, contexts, and so forth. These words, however, become problematic when the reader is not aware of their meanings, how and when they are to be used, and especially if they are used in conjunction with other challenging words.

Steps need to be taken to explore ways in reducing elitist writing methods performed by scholars (who may either be conscious or unconscious of this habit). Hopefully I didn't contradict myself by using any terms that are beyond my audience...

This guy knows what I'm talking about - http://www.nerdtoenglish.com/2009/08/big-words/

Possible Grant Proposal for Fieldwork in BMore

(A montage of rap artists)

Describe your research question/hypothesis or research objective:

To what degree, if any, is socialization—the process in which societal identities are formed—of black youth in Baltimore City influenced by rap music? Given the idea that the mass media has a primary role in influencing elements of culture and shaping personalities and perspectives, I assert the likelihood that rap culture actively influences the cultural capital of black youth. Growing up around rap music in the latter ages of my youth, I became familiar with trends and styles that were ‘in’ as a result of a rapper’s appearance on a magazine cover or from the lyrics in a frequently played song on the radio. The commercialization of rap music additionally marked a growing relationship between endorsement deals and rap artists, thus forming marketing schemes that appeal to rap fans wishing to replicate materialistic identities. In focusing on only black youth I attempt to look at all aspects of black culture that converge with rap culture. Rather than general, mass-mediated popular music, the decision to specifically choose rap music and black inner-city youth allows me the opportunity to focus on historical, cultural, and socio-economic factors that may be buried or go unnoticed with a broader research population. It is important to understand that while rap music has undergone vast changes since its inception, especially with its emergence into mainstream society, rap music is still an element unique to black culture that speaks to values, lifestyles, struggles, and so forth experienced by members of the black community.

Describe the field you propose to study, define its boundaries, and explain any characteristics that will affect your research methodology:

There are four domains that require a definition of boundaries and an understanding of its cultural makeup to properly grasp their relationships with one another: 1) rap culture, 2) rap music, 3) black youth, 4) and Baltimore City. I use Tylor’s (1871) definition to assist in defining rap culture. “Culture, or civilization, taken in its broad, ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” Thus, rap culture is a conglomeration of these elements resulting in a creation of a unique way of life. Secondly, rap music itself is immensely difficult to define with recent genre fusions in music and even differing rap subcultures (Southern rap as compared to East Coast rap or ‘gangsta rap’ as compared to rap music that engages social and political issues). I will define rap music simply as music that embraces or embodies rap culture and is performed in a spoken, yet lyrical content by an emcee or a group of emcees to a beat. Thirdly, black youth I have designated as individuals between 13 and 20 who recognize themselves and are recognized by others as black, or African-American. I have no intention of restricting possible informants with interracial heritage as long as black culture is prevalent in his or her daily life. Fourthly, I decided to define Baltimore City, my field, within its current political designations, West, Central, and East Baltimore. After briefly studying various demographic and political maps of Baltimore, I found that West, Central, and East Baltimore encompass what is geographically and culturally understood as the inner city of Baltimore. While I do want to have an accurate and expansive selection of informants, I intentionally decided to refrain from selecting particular neighborhoods of study before establishing rapport and determining whether or not work in certain areas is feasible.

How does your research project build on previous research in anthropology/cultural studies, or closely related disciplines? Give specific examples of this research and its findings?

Although the field of rap music has not been extensively researched in the capacity of socialization and in disciplines like media anthropology, but the theories backing my research supplements beliefs of socialization and cultural capital held by Altheide and Bourdieu.

What evidence will you need to collect to answer your question? How will you collect and analyze this evidence?

I have selected several methods to help me define the relationships between Baltimore City youth culture and the culture of rap music. These methods will be employed in order to extract information regarding practices and actions of youth, and also attitudes and emotions. Attitudes and emotions are terms more commonly heard in social psychology, yet, ethnographic methods dealing with one’s sensory experience can equally extract useful data on cognition. Cohen states that self-knowledge can be attained and is not less important than social knowledge. He argues,

…although people’s self-knowledge is not easily available to the ethnographer, anthropology cannot continue to be written as if it does not exist, or is immaterial, or, even, is less important than ‘social knowledge’. People’s knowledge of themselves is of critical importance to us for without it we misunderstand them (1992, original italics).

With this in mind, I have extended the idea of photo elicitation to an audio format. This entails listening to a favorite rap album, for instance, and having the subject explain how they may feel about a particular album, how the album came into their possession, what was happening in their life at the time the album was received, or which lines are ‘quotables’. To understand one’s feelings in this context is to understand self-knowledge. In addition to audio elicitation, photo and video elicitation are individually unique in accessing certain forms of implicit knowledge. The goal here is to carefully organize and synthesize elicited information in order to conclude whether or not parallels exist between elicited attitudes and emotions and rap culture. Additionally, Hendrickson expands and explores the benefits of visual field notes as a way to supplement the ethnographer’s written notes. Whether she is drawing a conch shell or attaching an admission ticket to a description and sketch of an event, Hendrickson demonstrates how this can be especially helpful in remembering and organizing mass amounts of field notes, and since drawing is naturally reflexive, the ethnographer-as-tool can be critiqued as well.

Scissors, glue, and bits of the material world brought together on the plane of a journal page open up a universe of possibilities and enable the anthropologist to work as a bricoleur of fieldwork ephemera…The motivations for this sort of archival work vary and at different times reflect emotions, a sense of attachment, a recollection, a visual play, a classification, a kind of comment, and a general engagement with the materials and the ideas these carry (Hendrickson 2008:127)

Using visual field methods as employed by Hendrickson reduces the anxiety that ethnographer’s often express when attempting to later synthesize vast amounts of data. This echoes Malinowski’s approach to mapping out data originally gained through written notes and observations. By using a wide array of methods, I will attempt to tap into both social and self-knowledge. These methods will produce the evidence I need in collecting information from informants that parallel cultural artifacts and actions within rap culture.

What ethical concerns are raised by this project? How are you prepared for them? How will you protect the people with whom you work?

Ethical concerns over drug intake, alcohol usage, and illegal activities, especially when performed by minors, are my primary concerns with this project. There is the potential possibility that during my observations I may experience drug and alcohol use among my informants. Unless these activities prove detrimental to the informant’s mental or physical health, I do not plan to report what may be labeled as ‘problems’ to the authorities (parents, teachers, etc). My primary responsibility and trust goes to protecting my informants. After I finish my fieldwork, I intend to use fake pseudonyms to cover the identity of informants. In this way they are not implicated in whatever they may confide to me.

What contribution does your research make to the field (of either anthropology OR cultural studies)?

With most of my research being backed by theories of socialization and the effects of mass media, my research expands those two fields respectively. Assuming that my hypothesis is correct in that rap music socializes music, my proposed research of understanding to what degree this socialization occurs has the capacity to greatly supplement research within the field of media anthropology and other notions of agency and power. Also, fine-tuned research methods and my critical evaluation of the significance of these particular methods in particular situations make a considerable contribution in fieldwork methodology. This will help answer many questions, especially those that deal with the sensory experience and a push for visual anthropology. Anthropology will not be the only field to benefit from such research. Content analysis and the application of utilizing semiotics to understand visual symbols and representations may further critical research and look at new avenues in conducting analytical work. The greatest contribution, I believe, is the action of doing fieldwork in Baltimore, thus opening up more room for anthropologists and cultural studies scholars to carry out fieldwork in the inner city.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Poetic Fieldnotes

Fieldnotes are one of the many integral methods to ethnographic work in anthropology and other disciplines that attempt to gauge and explain an activity or event from the perspective of the notetaker/ethnographer. During a methods class, I was instructed to go out and take fieldnotes within the Baltimore community. Long story short, when I attempted to describe a tangible object, the outcome of the description looked somewhat similar to the simple sentences kindergartners write except my vocabulary was much more expansive. This can be partly attributed to the overwhelming pressure to write down as much as possible as fast as possible before the object moved out of sight or before something more important came along. Yet for the most part, this action of simply listing the colors, shapes, and patterns of objects were futile in providing an accurate description and portrayal of the described object. The perfect ethnographic description of something allows for the ethnographer to reread his/her notes time and time again while retaining a vivid understanding and feel of that item (especially after months have passed from the initial notetaking). A vivid understanding of anything entails that all senses are activated and utilized to better preserve the item in its entirety. And who better to orchestrate the perfect description of an event or activity than a poet?

True poets have the glorious ability to describe a cultural ritual like 'Washing Day' by painting a picture of the chores performed by the women and detailing the emotional and physical atmosphere. The most significant aspect of this poem is Anna Barbauld's portrayal of women, how they are treated on this unique day, and their role within the kinship system during this particular period in time. Learning and perfecting the art of prose is to gain enlightenment of the observed culture. I argue that poets were the first cultural anthropologists and still are. There are few people in the world who can articulate and arrange details in such a readable and recognizable form. Poetry should be taken seriously as a form of writing fieldnotes. While my knowledge of poetry is limited to British literature, I should not be dismissed as someone has not given this idea much thought. Think about it...
The Muses are turned gossips; they have lost
The buskin'd step, and clear high-sounding phrase,
Language of gods. Come, then, domestic Muse,
In slip-shod measure loosely prattling on
Of farm or orchard, pleasant curds and cream,
Or drowning flies, or shoe lost in the mire
By little whimpering boy, with rueful face;
Come, Muse, and sing the dreaded Washing-Day.