Tuesday, 4 December 2012

On coding and cartoonists...

Picking up on Luke's post about manual vs. computer-assisted coding - while I've been in this class, I've also been taking a class that has allowed me to conduct a small ethnographic project. I've been in the process of coding my field data for the past few weeks, and I've done it all manually - and it's been a pretty rewarding process. I can mostly imagine digital methods to be useful when there's a huge volume of data - which, in my case, there wasn't (well, there was a lot - but compared to the amount that a year-long project would amass, it wasn't much). Coding manually was helpful because it was easy for me to visualize where in the data specific things were located, and there was something I liked about the hands-on nature of the whole thing - combing through pages of text, highlighting, using sticky notes, all the while building a web of important concepts and themes. There has been something that feels kind of creative about it, about really actively engaging in the work you've done, and about searching through it for all the layers of meaning.

This is a bit of a departure (and it's probably not, you know, properly research-y), but I'm a big fan of cartoonist Lynda Barry, and when she talks about doing creative work, she's a huge advocate for using your hands and doing things manually. She talks about how, when she's working on something (whether it's writing or drawing), "The worst thing I can do when I'm stuck is to start thinking and stop moving my hands." In interviews, she talks about her process, and about how when she gets stuck on a project, she just puts it aside and moves over to another sheet of paper, where she starts drawing something else (even something as simple as painting the letters of the alphabet) - for her, the thing seems to be that being engaged in a physical way in what she's doing helps her to generate ideas. My feelings about manual coding reminded me of this - in my (pretty limited) experience so far, there has been a rich physicality and materiality to it that I have really enjoyed, that has helped me feel immersed in my data, and has engaged my mind in ways that working on a computer hasn't done.

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