Keeping a diary is new to me. As far as I can remember I never kept a diary, not as a teenager to collate my German teenage angsts, or otherwise – ever. It’s only recently that I became aware just how important ‘story telling’ is in campaigning and academia alike and what processes and techniques are available to an adventurous individual. Using diaries is one of these.
Humans crave stories, crave coherence, crave constancy. Compiling events into a coherent full is sense-making and meaning-giving (and so can have directive and normative influences too). Story creation is what the cognitive human brain yearns for badly. Yet the orthodox academy is disapproving and dismissive. Positivism (= we can fully explore and explain the world, all is objective, research is value-free) feels pushed by any qualitative approach, let alone by theories and methods of (auto)ethnography or personal narrative. It can be of little surprise then that awareness is key: being aware of the myriad of our brain biases is paramount to good academic process (in qualitative and quantitative research!).
As a ‘story telling’ researcher we must doubly be aware and alert, at all times… we can use reflexivity as well as keenly outline our position… and be prepared for self-discovery. Explain yourself! Scary. But I am on my way. Carefully listing my assumptions and hiccups as I go along. Finding ways to herd and cajole the bias. Using multiple methods, triangulation, comparison, all these can help to tell a fuller story of thick description, outlining and interpretation.
As part of my multi-data collection, I am also making a retrospective diary to sense-check and outline the last seven years of my campaigning and activism. This post is a quick technical update from my film diary endeavour, first described here. Now that I am one month down the line of a 12 months programme, I can stop and think. I can line up the first five diary clips into sequence and create January 2010, January 2011 etc. (see illustration below)
On a technical level this has worked rather well. Using a simple staple media maker combined with laptop camera and mic, the videos are coming out ok. I can also put them together using the same software. Going through reams of emails is possible too. I am reading through the emails before turning to the camera to record the 3 minute video diary. This allows me to get a feel for the week before recording it. Success.
Looking at a certain year only every 7 days seems to be a good thing too. By then my memory is almost empty so I am looking afresh when turning to a new week for a particular year. This detachment-by-time pinpoints events in isolation, not narrative dependent. They are good jigsaw pieces. I will see the wider narrative when piecing the pieces together. So far so good.
I wish I could post the nascent video diaries! But too many people (officials and campaigners, friends and family) are part of this and would be implicated. And whilst embarrassment is certainly part of ethnography – it must be to the embarrassment of the researcher not the (co-)actors. So with some regret I have to draw the line here.
Overall, I give myself the green light to carry on collecting these jigsaw pieces so that come the 1 January 2018 I can link them all together and see big themes, perhaps some wider meaning and hopefully will be able to make sense of it all. (And site it in wider academic theory of social change, feminism and political sciences.) For now, however, progress looks like this: