5.0 out of 5 stars
A "how-to" manual for turning observation into publication, Aug. 6 2001
Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes was written to fill a gap in ethnographic methods training - students are seldom guided through the process of turning notes jotted down as they do observation into publishable ethnographic documents. Not laden with academic jargon, the easy flowing text makes this book readily accessible to the undergraduate student - but the content is such that even an experienced ethnographer can benefit.
True teachers, Emerson, Shaw and Fretz (UCLA faculty) show just as much of the process as they tell. Step by step, readers are walked through the process of turning initial chicken scratches jotted down on scrap paper to publishable ethnographic documents. Rarely will you find more than a page between excerpts from real fieldnotes.
The authors recognize that every field situation is different and ethnographers rarely, if ever, find themselves in ideal situations for writing. Thus, they explain the tensions that constantly pull at ethnographers and also what things will become much easier as ethnographers gain experience. They discuss how to balance observing with writing, and demonstrate that how you write fieldnotes (what you emphasize, point-of-view used, quality of description, representing community members' voices) is just as important as what you write.
Redundancy might be a weak point, but overall the re-explaining of things in two or three different ways serves only to make the reader experience and assimilate the process of writing fieldnotes. Readers can then naturally employ the procedures rather than constantly referring to the book as a "checklist" when doing fieldwork.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone seeking to understand the worldview and customs of another culture, or doing social research within their own culture. Even if your goal is not to do anthropology or to publish ethnographic documents, turning your experiences and observations into written text helps you to process things. Writing also helps you gain insights about the community you are working with by increasing your observational skills. You will not regret taking time to read Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes.