I’m currently fully immersed in fieldwork of a kind I hadn’t entirely expected. I applied to a ten-week course of ukulele classes running at London’s Duke of Uke and, in exchange for those classes, have wound up volunteering as a combination shop-floor staff member and web developer there one day a week. It’s been enormously enlightening; it’s given me access to conversations, statistics and stories I hadn’t even imagined, and after only three full days of time spent there I’ve acquired more fieldnotes than I could possibly have dreamed of.
Sierk Ybema and Frans Kamsteeg, in Organizational Ethnography: Studying the Complexity of Everyday Life write at length about the element of surprise and the unexpected as an invaluable aspect of fieldwork; ‘The road to revelatory findings,’ they suggest, ‘begins…with starting to realise what is new and surprising to us as strangers to the field’. It perhaps shouldn’t be as unexpected as it has been, then, that if anything the work I have undertaken as a ‘favour’ to the shop allowing me to take classes unpaid has been at least as valuable, if not actually more so at this point of my research, than the classes themselves; an element of consistency and of the day-to-day existence of a subculture and industry outside of focused events is already beginning to reveal itself to me through time spent in the shop, beyond the more hurried, excitable happenings of the once-weekly classes.
I’m in such an early stage of fieldwork and am already swamped by my own notes; how those notes will arrange themselves and take shape over the next two or so years remains to be seen, but this feels like an auspicious and exciting beginning.