Blog 4: Environmental Discourse & Diversity

Working on this project was very challenging, but enlightening. The greatest challenge can be summarized by one word: communication. From the early stages, communicating between all of the student group members was rocky. As can be expected, there are difficulties with time commitments or coordinating meeting times. But further than that, it was difficult to reach each other effectively. There were issues with time differences, distance, and digital communication. Nowadays, this is all too familiar. We are becoming quickly acquainted with long-distance collaboration. Teleworking is the new norm. Last summer, it was foreign to me. In this year, I have learned how difficult it can be to encourage urgency and adherence to deadlines when there is no sense of physical accountability. More than the knowledge gained from our research, I am taking away some lessons about work habits. I’ve found that every team is an entirely different animal. The varying combinations of skills, motivations, and experience make for wholly different productions.

I feel that I improved my interviewing and data collection skills in the course of this project. I conducted most of the data collection on my own. It can be very nerve-wracking to approach a person and put them and yourself in an unfamiliar social circumstance. There is a lot of vulnerability in ethnographic research – the fear of rejection, the discomfort with formal interviewing, and the pressure to improvise questioning. However, as with all uncomfortable experiences, I believe I grew from it. I am much more comfortable approaching people. I find that I can always fall back on my ethnographic interviewing skills when in an awkward conversation in daily life. The most useful lesson taken away from this project: people love to talk about themselves. Further, most people are willing to share massive amounts of information when told that you are a college student conducting research. Holding a clipboard is another excellent shortcut to authority.

This was also a lesson in self-direction. In future projects, I will create much more scaffolding and structure to my work. I am fairly new to collegiate research, and was not capable of handling the freedom this project allowed. Professor Pajo gave us an excellent opportunity to try out new methods and test boundaries, and I do not think I took advantage of that. In the future, I will try to be more proactive about synthesizing our collected data in a meaningful way. Overall, this program was a fantastic learning experience. My future research will be better for having done this project and completing this program.

Blog 3 Environmental Discourse and Diversity

Most of the work done on the project since the last post has been data management. Professor Pajo and I organized the last of the data which needed changes and moved the lot into a more easily accessed format. At this point, we are no longer conducting interviews, which is a bittersweet feeling. I really enjoyed developing my interview skills, and often find myself utilizing them in conversations with new people. Turns out, people love to talk about themselves.

It was very interesting to listen back to interviews from months ago in the process of cleaning audio files. I felt that I learned new things which I had previously not recognized. It is also very pleasant to be reminded of the enthusiasm that the interviewees hold for their work.

A challenge I have faced is communication with the group. Professor Pajo is tireless and dedicated to this project, but it is sometimes difficult to get in contact with other student researchers. Regardless, I am pleased with the status of this project so far. I hope to work further by consolidating data and making conclusions about the commonalities we find in data. I still have a ways to go when it comes to the other students’ data. I think that after taking in all of that information, we are bound to find some interesting theses.

This project has helped me to learn a lot about working with others, especially over different platforms. I think that in my future jobs, it’s likely I’ll have to be skilled in communication through email and messaging. Hopefully by that point someone will invent a more stable video chatting software!

Blog 2

So far, this project has been very productive. Since the last post, we’ve continued to gather data through participant interviews. Much of the progress we’ve made is in the cleaning of the data gathered so far. I spent some time trimming the audio posts and continuing the process of organizing field notes. The only problems I’ve experienced so far are related to the organization of data. The group has communicated some about the methods we are using to label the data and keep them in order. Because the bulk of our data is in audio files, it is imperative that we keep everything organized. The communication with our mentor has been very helpful. Professor Pajo is always available for questions and comments. I really enjoy our team. I think that we all work well together and enjoy the work itself.

In our research, we’ve found a variety of different opinions from the people on either side of the country. The climate change marches in the past few months have been great sources for our research. I have found that interviews at events like a march are the best because they attract people who are passionate about the issues. Because our data is opinion based, this is valuable. As we progress, we will continue to develop the questions used to gather data.  We plan to begin creating the database in the coming months. Soon we will be able to make real conclusions about the data collected. I am excited to develop this data base because I think it has potential to be relevant in the field.

Blog 1: Environmental Discourse and Diversity

This year, I am working with Professor Pajo on a project titled “Environmental Discourse and Diversity in Urban Settings.” The goal of our project is to learn about the different ways that people talk about the environment and their many forms of environmentalism in their professional and day-to-day lives. We are accomplishing this by going to different organizations and talking to the people who work there, volunteer, or visit, about their motivations to “do something” about the environment. What exactly are their concerns? We find people and organizations by visiting environmental sites such as farmers’ markets, lobby or interest groups, or recycling centers. The organization itself is not so relevant as the people within it. This is to say, the important part of these groups is not what they do, but rather who is doing it, as well as how and why. The unique aspect of anthropology as a science is the focus on the intricacies of the human experience. With this project, we aim to discover the diversity of environmentalism in our country, especially in the modern era. It is important that we understand the reasons for activism in order to promote it and make it more effective.

In this project, I am hoping to gain a deeper understanding of environmental discourse. Often we isolate ourselves in groups which have little diversity of opinion. By exposing ourselves to different opinions, we are able to both challenge our biases and also strengthen our own values. This project is an opportunity to experience other people’s perspectives on something which we each feel so deeply as individuals and as a community. Climate change is a complex issue which must be considered through a manner of perspectives. How do we see climate change scientifically? Culturally? For instance, how does equity play a role in climate change? How can policy be used to affect change on a legislative scale? What is the place of politics in the issue? How can social justice be represented? All of these questions can be answered only by the individuals who hold that specific position within the grander issue. We hope to find patterns in this “climate talk.” Are there corresponding patterns in our diverse actions? The scientific approach gives us a vehicle to discuss complex issues without feeling the pressures that usually accompany ‘political’ topics.

The methods used to reach these conclusions are anthropological methods. These include participant observation, participant interviews, and textual analyses. The interviews provide the bulk of the qualitative data. The most important data we gather are people’s views expressed in natural conversation and recorded in natural language. The anthropological method of interviewing is to state a short, open-ended question and allow the interviewee to express themselves freely, with only some guidance on the general topic but not on the specific ideas. This is to ensure that we do not ask people simply to confirm what we believe. We are open to hearing about very different kinds of experiences, including framing environmental questions that we could not have imagined based on our own limited experiences. The beauty of anthropology is that most people will talk endlessly of themselves given the opportunity. Observation is effective to observe group interaction, but interviews allow us to experience the most direct expression of opinion.