A Look Inside My Field Notes Journal

I love Annie Dillard. She is wise and kind and generous and an exquisite writer. She is all the things I want to be.

In the spirit of giving away what I have learned freely and abundantly, I am sharing some excerpts from the field notes journal I have been keeping these last three years of doing my PhD.

These entries chart my progress and discomfort; two things which often go hand in hand.

A seedling
Can you have growth without discomfort?

Excerpt of field notes, dated July 5th 2020. 

Reading about image production and how images are closely linked to politics. What should X be? What should it look like? What powers should it have?

I can see so clearly how this links to female-ness and the creation and control of women, and it seems to apply to homes too.

This is maybe partly why women tiny house builders are doubly interesting. They defy archetypal images of what a woman is / should be by engaging in heavy lifting and construction work, and in so doing, also disrupt dominant ideas of what a home is and what it should be.

This creates different channels for power to flow through (Foucault). Need to work out how to bring this into interview conversations without it being leading.

Spoke to Gemma [participant] today and really enjoyed it. She described living in her artists studio sort of illegally. Definitely illegally. She used the word ‘technically’ a lot.

We spoke about the difference between law and ethics. Chatted about that at one time it was legal to enslave people and to disbar women from getting an education or owning property, but this never made it ethical.

Likewise, rentier capitalism that monopolises access to resources like land, money, housing. It is legal, but Gemma and I are not convinced that it is ethical. She [Gemma] wants to convert a school bus and park it outside in the field where the studio is.

She doesn’t have the money and she can’t save it with what she earns, even as she sleeps on a mattress, illegally, under the desk in her studio. 

An artist studio filled with canvases
How many people are sleeping ‘illegally’ in studios like this?

Excerpt of field notes, dated December 7th 2020

Keep thinking about when Diana said they had come across their ‘Dream’ home, and then finding out that once it was no longer a dream but a reality, she didn’t like it.

Wondering how much this enticement of the ‘Dream’ version of stuff which is sold to us by patriarchal capitalism is foundational to keeping the status quo intact.

Thinking about ‘Dream’ jobs for example as a way to romanticise waged labour in general. Even your dream job is labour which takes up your time and energy and is ultimately still a job which definitionally means you are being exploited for profit.

Is this truly anyones ‘dream’?

What about the dream wedding or the dream outfit/nose job/whatever. Rhetorical sleight of hand to keep us all yearning for something which can never actually materialise because it is always couched in a dream-state / alternative reality.

This is a perfect way to sustain hegemony because then we never stop trying to make our unequal and exploitative job or marriage or accommodation structure work.

We just need to self-optimise that little bit more and purchase the right things, the greener things, or in this case, the smaller things.

In this context, is any form of heterotopic escape even possible, or does heterotopia itself occupy the same ‘dream’ state?

Starry night sky
Is heterotopia only ever a dream?

Excerpt of field notes, dated November 4th 2021

I had my progression meeting today and through conversations with my supervisors realised that I am ambivalent about writing in stronger critiques of the things my participants have been saying to me.

I am so cautious of making sure my entire process is aligned with a feminist and non-extractive ethic of relating that I worry about pointing out, for example:

  • the romanticisation of smaller spaces
  • the fact that it is illusory for anyone to say they are ‘stepping outside of’ consumer capitalism
  • that extolling the virtues of optimised space/efficiency/productivity is a highly capitalist sentiment.

The progression meeting helped me to see that critiquing these ideas is not the same as critiquing the individuals who express them.

We discussed that as academics, we are equipped with analytical training which allows us to identify differences between what individual women say they are doing and what the wider context in which these decisions are being made is.

We can be sympathetic to their experiences whilst also critiquing them. 

I just keep thinking about how any one of the thirty plus women that have shared their lives with me over the last year and a half would personally feel if they read the thesis and could identify themselves, and what they would think about the analysis surrounding the pieces of our conversation that have been plucked out and used in order for me to achieve my goal of earning a PhD.

I don’t ever want the tone to be ‘What these women think is happening is X, but I know better and it is actually Y’. I can’t tell to what extent I am achieving this goal.

A typewriter
I am always thinking about how much of a fair exchange this thesis is

I hope you enjoyed having a peek into my research journal.

I further hope that you are warm and well, wherever you are reading from.