Monday, 24 September 2012

Actually Facing the Field

Let me just start with: Conducting an interview is hard!

Today saw my induction into the art of the successful interview. I wouldn't say it went badly. The recording device didn't run out of batteries. The memory card was definitely big enough. I didn't forget my notes, and my informant didn't clam up from nervousness. I was lucky that my first interview was with a friendly man who has been offering since our group first arrived to tell me anything I need to know for my fieldwork. There were certainly no disconcerting disasters, but there are many aspects of it I really wish I could do over.
An Interview Setup
Modelled by Kristin Catherwood

Photo: Alicia Farnham

The challenge lay in holding myself in check, trying to remember and follow all of the tips I'd been given repeatedly in the last two weeks of classes and conversation with experts in the field. I have discovered, as of this morning, that where many people nod or make some sound of agreement in regular conversation, I giggle! After listening to twenty minutes of it, I now despise giggling! It was painful to listen to myself as I wondered, if I had stayed quiet at that moment would he have said more? If I hadn't made that horribly corny joke (that he did laugh at), would he have said something himself much more worthy of the memory space? If I had braved that awkward silence for two seconds more, would he have thought of something else  to add? Did I take over the flow of the conversation too much with my giggles and prompts? Did I let him tell his own story, or did I shape it too much with leading questions? Reviewing the resulting audio is proving to be a roller coaster of self-confidence, doubt, and criticism.

My conclusion? Interviewing in the field is not for the faint of heart. I wish I could snap my fingers and go instantly from a green graduate folklore student reading about interviewing skills to being an experienced fieldworker who speaks little, listens much and comes out of an interview with a treasure trove of information and only half the self-recrimination. Only one more reason to be thankful for the Keels Field School experience: I can start out in a less informal atmosphere as a newbie making mistakes and work toward excellence without the pressure of a thesis or a doctorate hanging in the balance. What a relief!

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