Dr Gavin Weston’s concluding report on the progress of the Teaching Fellowship project being undertaken during the academic year, 2015-16:
On June 16th 2016, a minibus and several cars carrying a team of twenty-one anthropologists arrived at Ightham Mote in Kent to carry out a collaborative ethnography on the filming of an episode of The Antiques Roadshow. Historically, ethnography has been a form of research associated with long term fieldwork and participant observation (getting involved in the thing you are studying) and it has tended to be a highly individualistic pursuit. We drew upon Collaborative Event Ethnography as a method as it uses the same skills familiar to anthropologists (interviews, participation and detailed field notes) but with a team of ethnographers in order to get past an intrinsic problem in the research of ephemeral events: how can one person capture the multiplicity of a one-off event on their own without it being highly subjective and partial? This being a project funded by TaLIC, the aim of the project was to experiment with this as a method which can draw together teams of teaching/research staff along with students (across BA, MA and PhD levels) to act as both a research method and form of experiential research skills training for students. It seems (and this is based on the experience of the day – there are still many hurdles left to clear in order to take the research to publication) as both a research and teaching exercise, the event was a huge success.
The Antiques Roadshow production team could not have been more welcoming. They provided us with crew parking (fringe perk – but a nice one), access and information. They were welcoming throughout and if anyone was concerned with the potentially invasive presence of twenty-one anthropologists they hid it very well. Our group split up to cover different areas of the site with some taking their own objects for evaluation (hands-on participant observation that would not be possible for a lone ethnographer without the research becoming limited in scope) while others milled around interviewing, ‘zone marking’ (aimed at producing ‘thick description’) as well as interviewing visitors, crew and Igthham Mote and National Trust staff and volunteers. While analysis is the next step, at present we are in the process of sharing the data gathered by twenty-one researchers and with each of us having put in an 11 hour shift (hats off the production team who do this throughout the summer – it’s a long day) the wealth of data produced through this method is just becoming clear.
As this is a pilot aimed at enhancing everyone’s CVs, the learning has not stopped there. We’ve all just completed our NVivo training and we are now using this software package to start the process of coding our data to establish the themes that arose from the research and to find the evidence we will use to back up anything we argue in publications. At present, the aim is to produce between two and four publications which provisionally, based on the experience of the day, will be exploring queuing, material culture and contrasting ideas of value, the event itself and the sense of British cultural identity we encountered at the event (there was rain, queues, an England vs Wales football match, Fiona Bruce, tea and cakes by the Women’s Institute – it’s almost impossible not to talk about these things) and perhaps Collaborative Event Ethnography as a method, too.
I could not have asked for a better team – from the second I saw them head off after the crew production and safety meeting and saw them start to instantly mingle I knew we would have data. Now we just need to keep the momentum going to transform it into publications. As and when they happen we will make sure open access versions are made available so that everyone interested can read about our experiences and findings.