After fieldwork: Methodological reflections

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Suggested for the 4th year PhD students in "Political Science and Sociology" and in "Transnational Governance"


This course is reserved exclusively to the IV year students of the PhDs in "Political Science and Sociolgy" and in "Transnational Governance" of the Scuola Normale Superiore.


 The seminar will have a workshop format, which means that participating IV year PhD students will be required to be active during the course. Before the beginning of the seminar each participant will need to upload a 5 pages paper outlining their fieldwork, in terms of: a very brief outline of the project (half page, no more); provide an overview of all the empirical material collected or closed to be collected (2 pages, no more); possible issues that have emerged during the fieldwork (including problems) (2 pages, no more); what next and which dilemmas (half a page, no more). Deadline for submission will be one week before the start of the seminar (7th of November). The text should be submitted in a Google drive folder opened by the teacher. The intent of this 5 pages paper is to prompt each IV student to reflect and consider their own fieldwork experience, but also to share this with their colleagues.




Day 1: Monday 14, November 2022

Session N. 1 Introduction

(h. 10:00-12:00)

In the first session we will focus on the presentation of the seminar, on how to organise and work with fieldwork material.

(h. 14:00-16:00)

Knowing each other – informal chat (SNS and UNICT meet eachother).


 Day 2: Tuesday 15, November 2022

Session N. 2 Fieldwork experience  

(h. 9:00-11:00)

In the second session we will examine each other’s ongoing or recently finished fieldwork experiences, discussing, for example: how the fieldwork challenges our literatures; possible problems we have experienced while entering, conducting and leaving fieldwork; how we have adapted the fieldwork research during the pandemic; the emotions and feelings that one experiences while doing fieldwork; and so on. The discussion will be based on comments from peers and the teacher on the pre-circulated texts.​ The session will finish with the identification of shared challenges, dilemmas, (good and bad) practices, coping mechanisms we have had during our fieldwork experiences. These will be classified, clustered, in a way that we will be able to elaborate further in the next session.

(h. 11:00-12:00) Researchers and activists: a problematic relationship (with the participation of Prof. Gianni Piazza, UNICT)

This seminar will anticipate the topic addressed in the following section, focusing on the relationship between researchers and activists: both when researchers are at the same time activists (or former activists) and when they are not; both when researchers involve activists in doing research (conricerca, self-research, action research, etc.) and when the differences in roles are more marked. Based on past research experiences (LULU movements, student/researcher movements, squatting movements), prof. Piazza will discuss with PhD students the problems, difficulties and dilemmas that researchers face in the study of social movements and contentious politics.


Session N. 3 Reflexivity and positionality

(h. 14:00-16:00) | (with the participation of Sarah ElMasry, Laura Mendoza and Fiorenzo Polito,  SNS)

The third session will ​​​​prompt PhDs to reflect individually and collectively on how they are positioned and related to their field of knowledge and subjects of study. Starting from reflections on ontology and epistemology in the social sciences, possible questions to engage with in this session may include: Who are we in our fields?  How is our knowledge situated? Which are the power relations in which we are engaged while developing our research? How are we dealing with issues of “otherness” and self-representation? What are the borders between researcher-activist roles, and how do we navigate through them? From these and other reflections elicited in this session we will be able to set up a world café in which we will share, exchange and elaborate deeper insights about how we are managing our positionality in the research, the practice of reflexivity during and after fieldwork (and in between) and ways forward in the writing process.


Day 3: Wednesday 16, November 2022

Session N. 4 Fieldwork unpacking

(h. 10:00-12:00)

In the fourth session we aim to unpack the fieldwork material: presenting the data collected so far; asking how the data have been collected; did these answer the research questions; filtering social realities and transform them into relevant data; connecting these to analytical concepts; thinking of risks involved and ethical challenges in publishing the gathered data after the fieldwork; and so on. The discussion will be based on comments from peers and the teacher on the pre-circulated texts.

Session N.5 Fieldwork during COVID times

(h. 14:00-16:00) (with the participation of Lucie Janatova and Maria Nicola Stragapede, SNS)

14:00 - 15:00 Google Pinpoint: your fieldwork best friend:The Covid 19 pandemic has forced many of us to deepen our interaction with digital data sources. Many archives have moved their collections online, ceasing the need to manually sift through and annotate paper data. Oral history and fieldwork interviews also often come in the shape of digital audio files, the same applying to pictures and fieldwork notes. In this short workshop (15-20 minutes, maximum), I would like to introduce to my peers one of the most useful open-source digital humanities tools: Google Pinpoint. Be it either either image-to-text (OCR) transformations of old or badly legible archival sources or quickly jotted fieldwork notes, high quality transcriptions of audio files, big data names/cities/objects recognitions, simple text analyses, or image annotations, Google Pinpoint has proved to be an invaluable research assistance tool, which I believe might also be of use to others.

15:00 - 16:00 “Memories of fieldwork”: This session is envisioned to reflect on “memories” of fieldwork to underline the process of coming back to its experience in the present, while at the same time systematising and somehow choosing, cutting, and filtering part of that experience in what will become academic knowledge. The tools that we employ to narrate, our writing style, our word choosing, how we create an index, how we structure paragraphs and sentences are already communicating to the reader (and mostly to ourselves while we write) the world that we have experienced and the memories that we are now recollecting. Academic writing can often become constraining in this sense: we may feel that we need to modify our flow of thoughts and ideas to a language (and therefore a mode of thought) that does not belong to the experience as how we had it. How do we “choose” then what becomes academic knowledge and what we want it to remain our personal or political ones? How do we remember and how do we decide to narrate? How do we navigate and find balances between our own style (and general tools of expression) and the one we have to convey? In this workshop I would like to reflect together around these aspects and possibly conduct some activities that might help us engage in these questions. We could start imagining and possibly write a particular memory of fieldwork 1) in a list of thoughts (smells, observations, sounds, feelings…) 2) to a person we decide to address, ourselves, a friend, someone we met during our experience, etc. and 3) reflect later on how we would adapt/choose/frame it (if we want it) for academic knowledge. I could also look for some examples in the literature (autobiographical novels for instance).


Day 4: Thursday 17, November 2022

Session N. 6 Structuring the dissertationand first publications

(h. 10:00-12:00)

The sixth session will look at how to structure a PhD dissertation and first publications. It will look at different approaches PhD dissertations can be structured around, but we will also discuss how fieldwork should be written? Which sections in a PhD dissertation should engage with it? When to bring in your voice and that of your interlocutors? We often end up wanting to describe it in neat sections. However, fieldwork is far from neat and instead of concealing what went wrong in the writing up in this session we will tackle what was disappointing/went wrong during fieldwork and how to bring it and frame it in the research. Should we also discuss what went wrong? Our confusion during an interview? An interaction/encounter that went the wrong way? How underpreparedness or hesitation affect interactions or even access to archives? In terms of first publications it will try to answer: What elements/factors should be considered while drafting publications? What is the logic to be followed: writing an article first? or identifying journals and editors before writing a piece? what should be taken into consideration to have better chances at getting published?


Day 5: Friday 18, November 2022

Session N. 8 Presentations and discussion  

(h. 10:00-13:00 - 14:00-18:00)

This session will focus on the presentation and discussion of each participant's paper. Main questions to tackle include: What is the topic of your thesis? What is your research question? Why is it significant? What is your methodology for investigating this question? Which are the initial results? Are there some dilemmas connected with the fieldwork or after it that you want to bring to the class?

Obiettivi formativi

The aim of this seminar is to assist IV year PhDs from SNS and UNICT (hereafter, PhDs) in thinking through the many aspects of moving from data collection, for quantitative and/or qualitative research, to writing their thesis dissertation. In particular, this seminar is oriented to reflecting on preparing for fieldwork, the fieldwork experience, unpacking the fieldwork material, implementing methodological reflections on the outcome of ongoing/already accomplished research fieldwork, highlighting the difficulties we all have in making analytical sense of the fieldwork material, and starting to structure the dissertation. Wishing to establish the link between the concrete fieldwork and more abstract theoretical and methodological assumptions, this seminar engages IV year PhDs who are producing/have produced fieldwork research and discuss how this aspect of their PhD work relates to their theoretical framework. The seminar is NOT aimed to provide one solution in the shift from fieldwork to PhD dissertation writing. If anyhow helpful its main aims are a) to get in depth peer-to-peer and teachers feedback; b) the possibility to learn about each other’s reflections on research fieldwork and how to move to work on the writing of the dissertation.