Quantity of Recordings

Robin Shoaps, March 2007

A Note on Recording Quantity

Dissertation fieldwork is a unique opportunity in the lives of most
anthropologists. At virtually no other time in your career will you have the
amount of time and lack of competing demands for such an extended
period. Nor will you have as many opportunities to “cast a wide net” in
terms of data collection. You may not get another opportunity to do
extensive fieldwork until you have tenure.

Don’t underestimate the amount of data that you will need for your
project. Human error, background noise, etc. are the cause of many
unusable or unsuitable recordings. Plus, as your interests evolve you may
find that some of the recordings you’ve made are simply more interesting
and rich than others—it’s terrible to find this out post-field when you
realize you only have one recording of a particular speech genre. Lastly,
having a large backlog of high-audio-quality, untranscribed recordings are
a goldmine for future research (you can get tenure off of writing them up).
If you can pay consultants to transcribe for you after you leave the field
and/or, you will be able to make future, inevitably shorter, field trips
much more productive.

I left the field with about 100 hours of intelligible recordings and
transcribed approximately 30 hours while I was there. While obviously not
every transcribed recording made its way into my dissertation analysis,
having such a broad exposure to and understanding of discourse
influenced my project and my subsequent research immeasurably. I am
now “mining” the leftover recordings by having consultants transcribe
them, as I take periodic, short trips to work through transcripts with them
and pick up the materials.

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