• jannipedersen

From Fieldwork To Data (After Fieldwork)

Detail from mural depicting the different provinces of Panama

It has now been a while since we returned from Panama. Life has returned to the normal grind, which for me means teaching, developing courses, academic conferences, and of course, walking my little dogs who have already made an appearance on this blog.

With the amount of data we have, making sense of it all is a significant undertaking. The first step is to transform the raw material into actual data. The material we collected, such as films, surveys, and recorded interviews, is not in itself in a format that is accessible for analysis, so our job is not yet done. In fact, we are not able to commence the analysis yet. To do so, we are taking several steps. The surveys were scanned and stored on a password protected drive; the sound files have received the same treatment; and our hand-written notes are making their way from paper to MS Word.The process of transcribing is what I would like to focus on in this post.


Much of our data is in the format of observational notes, notes from interviews, and audio recordings of interviews. What these have in common in the need for transcription as the first step. Wile we took copious notes during interviews, it is not possible to capture everything in the midst of such a conversation. This is why we recorded all the interviews and are now going through transcribing them. It is time-consuming work and requires much attention and diligence. However, it is also a nice revival of our experiences and it brings back memories. It is interesting how new things come up that were not captured initially: it really goes to show the benefit of audio recording as a back-up. On several occasions, there was noise, from either heavy rain pounding on the roof, playing children, or cars passing on the street. Audio recordings give the ability to stop and listen to the same part of the interview many times to get details that are not easy to hear. Imagine me at my standing desk in my home office on a Friday afternoon, using an hour to transcribe ten minutes of recording. And we have about 25 hours of recorded interview data. Does it sound tedious? It is. Does it sound exhilarating to get that deep down into the material and transform it into data that can be analyzed and give us an understanding of a culture? It also is. Research is exciting and exhilarating, but also time consuming, tedious, and even frustrating at times.

Content Analysis vs. Conversational or Discourse Analysis

As we transcribe data, it is important to note what form of analysis it is intended for. If we were aiming for discourse analysis, full accuracy was needed, including potentially breaks, tone, points at which people talk over each other or shift the floor to each other, etc. Discourse analysis or conversational analysis allows us to discover how language for instance embodies culturally specific gender differences, expectations of proper behavior in different situations, and how for instance apologies are framed or negotiated in different cultural contexts.That is not our goal in this project. Rather, we are interested in the information in the interviews, the themes and categories that come up that indicate what Corpus Christi festival and tourism means to the people of Parita. The transcript for such an approach is different: accuracy is needed, but rising tone, length of pauses, etc. is not included. Our goal is not to go into details with how something was said, but more what was said. That divide can seem artificial, and it is far from clear-cut. We do take into account the way people speak if it helps elucidate our research questions, but our focus is not how the topics of tourism and Corpus Christi are seen in language use as such. Below, I give two examples of transcripts, the first is from our Panama project. It illustrates the different approaches and the relationship between this step of the research process and the research goal.

Example of our transcript intended for content analysis.

Note that we are using translation from Spanish to English. That would not work for the discourse analysis example given below. JP: Are you involved in organizing other festivals, other celebrations? (MJ and Interviewee 1 speak in Spanish) MJ: Regarding other festivals, yes, she was involved until a year ago. Patron Saints and Holy Week. In the religious aspects - the other aspects such as bull fight on Patron saints, she was not involved in that, something that is more male-oriented. But inside the church with the religious groups like that, she was. Now the priest is now asking again “hey where are you” (a hard worked, people like that). So she might be participating. JP: What are the biggest challenges to organizing Corpus Christi?

Example of transcript intended for discourse analysis

Note that this transcript uses some of the most common conventions in discourse analysis. Depending upon research goal, there are more conventions that can be used.

From Sociological Research Online, Volume 10, Issue 1, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/10/1/gibson.html>.

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