Tag Archives: fieldnotes

Ethnographic Hockey, Part 3: Top Ten Body Slams, Noisemakers, and Cross-Cultural Fan Bases

This is Part 3 of my series of posts detailing my ethnographic study of the March 18th, 2014 Flyers vs Blackhawks game in Philadelphia, PA. You can find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

I rode up the escalator to the second level. My seats were another floor up, but I lingered for awhile on this level in order to get my first look at the arena itself.

I walked through a short corridor to get to the interior. The outside was a wide hall lined with shops and food stands that reminded me of a shopping mall, but the inside was something else entirely. The first thing I became aware of was the lights The entire stadium was lined with flashing lights and advertisements. I couldn’t look anywhere without seeing electronic screens that were all synced up to display cycling ads and light displays. At the center of it all was the JumboTron, a massive multi-screen stalactite that hung down from the ceiling in the center, right over the rink. It simultaneously showed live videos, advertisements, and listings of sports statistics. The image displayed on the biggest screen shifted continuously throughout the night, but when I first saw it, it was playing a “Top Ten” replay of hockey players body slamming into each other.

“He’s number one,” a stadium attendant said to me. She had dark, wavy hair and wore a black jacket with the words “EVENT STAFF” written across the back.

I looked up at the screen, expecting to see the “number one” scorer or defender displayed on the screen. Instead I saw Flyers #36, Zac Rinaldo, who as of this writing is the Flyer with the most Penalty Minutes on the team for the 2013-2014 season (His 124 minutes spent in the penalty box is more than the combined minutes of all 10 of the “least time in the box” players combined). He is “known by his teammates as the heat seeking missile for his violent hockey hits” and is known as “Rhino Rinaldo.” The “number one body-slammer” has a two-year, $1.5 million contract.

The stadium attendant was busy watching Rinaldo slamming into another player in a video clip from a previous game. I looked around, and noticed something unexpected: a large net was strung from either end of the rink, above and behind the goals. It stretching easily fifty feet high. I asked the attendant if it was there to block pucks and whether they could actually go that high.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “They only put it up in the last ten years. Before that, people were getting slammed.”

Hockey puck injuries can be quite severe, even fatal. A study reported by ABC News said that on average, three or four people are struck by pucks in every NHL hockey game, and of those, one will need stitches or some other kind of major medical help. The pucks can fly at over 100 miles per hour, and there has been one reported fatality. Brittanie Cecil, a thirteen year old girl from West Alexandria, Ohio, was killed by a stray puck during a game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Calgary Flames on March 16, 2002. Brittanie’s death led to the NHL implementing regulations requiring the nets I saw at either end of the rink in the Wells Fargo Center.

The stadium attendant turned away to greet an elderly man who seemed to be a regular spectator. “Welcome back,” she said. They chatted for a moment, and the man asked the attendant about the foldable poster board he had received when he entered the stadium.

“Oh, you can do this,” she told him. She held up the poster and shook it in front of her, though I had no idea why I had been given a poster I could shake at people. “Or you can do this,” she added. Then she folded it up and slapped it repeatedly against her palm.

To use the device, you hold it in one hand, then slap it rhythmically against the opposite palm.
To use the device, you hold it in one hand, then slap it rhythmically against the opposite palm.

The foldable poster, it turned out, was a noisemaker. When I heard the sound, I became aware of it coming from other parts of the stadium. People throughout the stands were slapping the noisemakers against their palms in a clapping rhythm.

I made a mental note of the object’s proper function, then turned back to my examination of the arena while the stadium attendant ask some more spectators if they needed help finding their seats. I looked up, and found another set of decorations lining the ceiling. There were several rows of banners, some in the orange, white, and black of the Flyers, others in the red, white, and blue of the 76ers. They marked various championships and the names and numbers of several different retired players: #16 Bobby Clarke, #7 Bill Barber, #2 Mark Howe, #1 Bernie Parent, and #4 Barry Ashbee. Each of these players, I discovered, had their numbers “retired” (meaning no future Flyer will wear the same number), and were awarded multiple honors such as “Most Valuable Player” or induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. There were more than fifty banners in all, marking quite a few accomplishments for the Philadelphia teams, from important players to championship wins.

I exited back out into the hall that circled around the stadium. There was still some time left before the game started. I watched a few more of the fans passing by. I still mostly saw people wearing orange and black, with only the occasional Blackhawks jersey in sight. Then I spotted a man who seemed to represent a “cross-cultural” fan base. He was wearing a red Philadelphia Phillies jacket, but had on a Blackhawks hat. This was the first sign I’d seen that not all of the fans in attendance would be dedicated to a certain city.

Most of the fans I saw were stopping to buy food and drinks before the game started. I headed to one of the food stands as well, and bought a $4.25 bottle of Aquafina water. Instead of simply handing me the bottle, the cashier opened it, poured it into a clear plastic cup, put a lid on it, then handed me the cup and threw out the bottle.

I watched the rest of the fans passing by while I drank my bottle of water from a cup. I spotted a few more cross-cultural fan interactions. One man in a Blackhawks jersey mingled with two men wearing Flyers jerseys. They seemed to be friends, and I saw no sign of cross-team animosity. Then, after passing by another raffle, this one for an autographed “#40 Lecavalier” Flyers jersey, I came across another individual wearing a mixture of gear. She had a pink Philadelphia Phillies baseball cap with a Blackhawks jersey. Since she was the second person I saw wearing the trappings of two different affiliations, I decided to approach her and learn more.

“You like the Phillies and the Blackhawks?” I asked.

She smiled and nodded. “Yes,” she said.

I told her, “I always root for the home team.”

She pointed to her Blackhawks jersey and said, “This is my husband’s home team.”

I nodded. “So, you have a mix of fan bases,” I said.

She laughed and nodded. “I’m also a Green Bay Packers fan,” she said. “So figure that one out.”

I left with a definite curiosity about what would strive someone to have such a wide spread of teams that they supported. I had observed earlier, as noted in my first post in this series, that there seemed to be a lot of connections between the local Philadelphia team and several historical, national, and patriotic symbols. That connection seemed like it might relate to the extreme display of team support demonstrated by the man with the autographed jersey that I described in the second post. But the idea of one individual being a fan of teams from three different regions seemed to clash with that. While it seemed that cross-cultural fans were a rarity among the spectators I observed, it still seemed clear that there had to be more at work here than the sense of national identity that connected fans to their teams. I kept this in mind as I continued my observations.

It was 30 minutes to game time, and I didn’t want to be late getting to my seat. I headed for Section 222 to prepare for the next stage of my research.

This story will continue in Ethnographic Hockey, Part 4: The Dietz & Watson and Horizon Services Zambonis.


Ethnographic Hockey, Part 2: Autographed Jerseys and Buy One Get One Hats

This is Part 2 of my series of posts detailing my ethnographic study of the March 18th, 2014 Flyers vs Blackhawks game in Philadelphia, PA. You can find Part 1 here.

I entered the stadium, feeling a bit lost. I looked around for some indication of where I was supposed to go and what I was supposed to do. There were stadium employees everywhere, and it took me a moment before I located one who was standing at a turnstile, waiting to scan my ticket. I handed it to him, and he scanned it with a handheld scanner, then told me, “Enjoy the game.”

“Thank you,” I said, somewhat distracted as I looked up at the towering ceilings that stretched four stories above me. I pushed my way through the turnstile and stood there for a moment, wondering where I should go first. I had arrived an hour and a half early in order to have plenty of time to study the lay of the land, but I didn’t know where to begin.

While I was trying to decide, an employee stepped up to me and handed me a strange piece of paraphernalia. It was a foldable poster board with a PECO logo and pictures of the Flyers team members on it. I accepted it and said, “Thank you,” while wondering what I was supposed to do with it.

I'm not sure what #ClutchTime means and I have no idea who those players are.
I’m not sure what #ClutchTime means and I have no idea who those players are.
CuidadodeSalud.gov for the Spanish-speaking Hockey fans in attendance.
CuidadodeSalud.gov for the Spanish-speaking Hockey fans in attendance.

Before I could take two steps, I was handed something else: a Healthcare.gov information packet. I didn’t really understand why I was being handed healthcare information at a hockey game, but the words “Exercise is great for your health” greeted me from the front of the packet. I figured that someone had decided it made sense to advertise exercise health at a sporting event, which made sense to me.

I moved out of the way of the other spectators entering the stadium and found someplace where I could just stand and watch for a time. There were posters and balloons hanging all around, most of them in orange, white, and black in honor of the Flyers. There were also advertisements all around. Toyota ads were most predominant on the ground floor, and there was a red car on display, much like one might see down at the mall parked in one of the interior courtyards. In addition to the ads, I saw a variety of art themed around sports. Hanging above my head was a sort of chandelier from which hung several different pictures. Each one showed a silhouette of a sports player, their body made out of a different substance: a hockey player made out of flames, a figure skater made out of trees, and a ballet dancer made out of a cloudy sky.

Around me were employees dressed in orange and black. The colors of their uniforms blended in with the colors of the fans’ jerseys until I almost couldn’t tell the difference between the people who worked here and the people who were here for fun. They seemed like a unified group, all here for the same purpose.

Though the employees made their presence known through various gestures. Across from me, an elderly man stood in a booth and shouted, “PROGRAMS! Programs here! Gift books and programs!” I briefly considered buying a program, but I contented myself with my as-yet-unidentified piece of foldable poster board.

Another man, wearing a yellow and blue polo shirt with “Sundance Vacations” printed on the left side of his chest, approached me and handed me a small pad of paper. He explained that if I filled it out, I could have the chance to win four free tickets to a future game. I filled in my name, phone number, and email address, while noticing that most of the fans passing by ignored the man’s advances and declined to fill out the form.

“Good luck,” he told me after I handed him back my entrant form. I expected I would soon be receiving email advertisements from Sundance Vacations, and that I would not be the winner of the four free tickets.

Chances to be a winner, however, would continue to present themselves before me. Before I’d gone much further into the stadium, I encountered another employee selling 50/50 charity raffle tickets. I’d seen such raffles before at various craft fairs and other events; the money from the ticket sales is pooled together, and when a ticket is drawn, the winner gets half of the money raised, with the other half going to charity. It turns out that Comcast and the Flyers run a number of different charity events, and the 50/50 raffle is an event at every game. Thus, people attending sports games on a regular basis can become more than just fans; they can be good Samaritans contributing to worthy causes that benefit their communities.

The 50/50 raffle was at over $7000 when I passed by, but I decided not to buy a ticket.

I passed by a couple of men talking with two young girls dressed in tank tops and short shorts, who I took to be cheerleaders. The girls greeted a number of people as they passed, and posed for pictures. They were positioned near the escalators that led to the upper levels, so most of the fans heading that way passed the girls and were greeted. In between, the girls chatted and made small talk, though they were ready to pose for another picture again the next time someone approached them.

Past the cheerleaders, I saw a stand selling Flyers clothes and hats. I decided to buy a hat and show off my team affiliation, along with the rest of the fans. While I’m not a sports person and I’d never been to a hockey game before, I’m a Philly fan by virtue of conditioning. The area I live in is in South Jersey, but is considered to be in the suburbs of Philly. When I tell people from other parts of the country that I root for the Philly teams, they ask me why I don’t root for the Jersey teams. They don’t seem to realize that the New Jersey Devils hockey team is based on Newark, which is an hour and a half from where I live, and much closer to New York. Philadelphia, on the other hand, is about ten minutes from where I live, and a lot of people in my part of New Jersey drive over the Walt Whitman Bridge into Philadelphia five days a week during their daily commutes.

There were at least twenty different styles of hat on display. I eventually settled on an orange cap with the Flyers logo on the front. When I told the cashier what I wanted, he told me that hats were “Buy one get one for $1” today.

I was pleasantly surprised, and while I had no real need for a second hat when I was at the game alone, the deal was too good to pass up. So I picked out a second hat, with a plaid design. I wore the orange one for the rest of the game, and I was given a plastic bag with the Aramark logo on it to carry the other. I added my foldable PECO poster board and my Healthcare.gov information packet to the Aramark bag, and continued on my way.

I bought this hat for $25.
I bought this hat for $25.
And I got this one for $1.
And I got this one for $1.

Adorned with my new hat, I continued on my explorations. I saw more pieces of art, including a bronze statue of a man dunking a basketball. He seemed to be wreathed in flames as he made his shot. There were also a large number of fans getting food before the game. The inside of the stadium was lined with a large number of food stands, much like the food court at the mall. Hot dogs, pizza, french fries, and soft pretzels seemed to be the most common selections, along with Philly Cheesesteaks. You can’t have an event in Philly without cheesesteaks, and that’s all there is to it. And don’t start with me about the steak sandwiches they sell in other states that they try to pass off as “cheesesteaks.” Trust me when I say that if you live west of Ohio, you wouldn’t know a good cheesesteak if it bit you on the nose.

I stopped studying the environment and started looking at the people. Most were traveling in small groups of 2-4 people, many of them parents with young children. Usually the people walking together were wearing the same team colors, and usually those colors were orange and black. I only saw about one Blackhawks jersey for every twenty or thirty Flyers jerseys, and it was rare to see any cross-fandom groups. I passed by a group of people all in Flyers jerseys, then another group all in Blackhawks jerseys. When I finally spotted a pair of men walking together, one a Flyers fan and the other a Blackhawks fan, it was noticeable just because of how rare it seemed to be.

Most of the fans I saw were otherwise dressed normally, wearing jeans, sweatshirts, or light jackets in addition to their team gear. One man, however, immediately stood out to me. He was a large man wearing a bright orange jersey, and in addition his face was painted orange with black stripes across the cheeks. His hair was heavily hairsprayed into a spikey mohawk and dyed orange, white, and black. On either side of his head, the Flyers logo was drawn into the hair dye. His jersey was also autographed; at least ten different signatures lined the chest, back, and shoulders.

The mohawked man was in the company of a short, skinny, older woman who I guessed was his mother. After they stopped at one of the food stands and bought some hot dogs, I approached the man, eager to learn more about him.

“Are those autographs from the team on your shirt?” I asked him. Since it was a Flyers jersey, I assumed the signatures would be from Flyers players.

“Yeah,” he said with a smile. “It’s from various years.” At a second glance I noticed that some of the signatures were older and faded. The man had likely been wearing the jersey to many games over the years.

“Oh,” I replied, “so you keep having people add to it?”

“Yup,” he said.

“That’s awesome,” I told him. I was impressed. The addition of multiple autographs over various years told me that this man had been to a lot of games.

“Thank you,” he said. Then he turned back to the ketchup and relish station, and I continued on my way, wondering at the meaning of this man’s autographed jersey and its role in his culture.

This story will continue in Ethnographic Hockey, Part 3: Top Ten Body Slams, Noisemakers, and Cross-Cultural Fan Bases.

My Trip to the Native American Voices Exhibit at Penn Museum

On Wednesday, March 12th, 2014, I visited the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in order to explore their Native American Voices exhibit. My goal was to learn whatever I could about Native American history and culture, in order to supplement my ongoing research.

While at the museum, I took extensive notes as I studied the exhibits and observed the museum patrons. In an attempt to recreate the scene and express what I learned, this post will include images of my fieldnotes, transcriptions from those notes, a detailed scene showing my experience, and a reflection on what I’ve learned.


20140313_214959 20140313_214835 20140313_214856 20140313_214903 20140313_214908 20140313_214912 20140313_214919 20140313_214923 20140313_214930 20140313_214934 20140313_214941 20140313_214946 20140313_214953


  • I arrived at the museum at about 1:00 PM.
  • I parked in Section 2S (I made sure to take note of this so I wouldn’t get lost trying to find my car later on).
  • Upon entering the Native American Voices exhibit, the first thing I became aware of was the voices speaking from above. They were Native American voices (no pun intended), speaking quotes about their history and culture.
  • Glass cases lined the walls. Each contained a variety of Native American clothes, artifacts, tools, weapons, clay pots, and so on. I was particularly struck by some modern things, like a picture of a video game cover for “Grand Theft Auto St. Clara Pueblo.”
  • Touch screens stood before each case offering more information. Each one had pictures of each item in the case. Touching the appropriate image brought up information about the selected item. You could also sort the items by the four primary exhibit categories: “Continuing Celebrations,” “Local Nations,” “New Initiatives,” and “Sacred Places.”
  • At the center of the room sat a virtual fire pit: a camera mounted above projected an image of a crackling fire onto the floor below. The fire was surrounded by four red benches. Most of the other museum patrons sat here at some point, and whenever they moved past, a sensor read their arrival and started playing a video (in place of the fire) depicting various aspects of Native American History.
  • One of the patrons stopped and looked at the fire, then said, “I was hearing those noises [from the virtual fire pit], I thought there must be some heat somewhere in here.” Yet the sound was disjointed; it came from above, while the image of the fire was down below.
  • The museum patrons passing by stop to listen to the voices coming from above: “We are still here,” “Today, we are getting stronger,” “Know that we are still here,” then, echoed over and over by many voices, “We are still here.”
  • Several patrons stop to read the writings above some of the display cases. I note the writings, “Native American communities mark the seasons with important public celebrations that help renew and strengthen their identities.” I’m immediately struck by the use of present-tense; these are, as noted, “Continuing Celebrations,” not just historical ones.
  • When I notice this, I begin looking more closely at some of the clothing on display. A woman passing by points at a t-shirt in one of the glass cases and comments on how different it looks to her. I read the plaque, and see it’s from 2010, and is hanging right next to a serape from 1860. In other cases are a blanket from 1994, a dress from 1880, a blouse and skirt from 2013, a “jingle powwow” dress from 2013, moosehide boots from 1900, and a painted buffalo robe from 1882.
  • Most of the museum patrons I observe pass through the Native American exhibit on their way elsewhere, only taking a few moments to glance at the displays. This exhibit is limited to a single room, about 30′ x 60′. The rest of the museum is dedicated to other parts of the world: South America, Africa, Japan, China, Egypt.
  • I trail after some of the other patrons and wander through the rest of the museum. The biggest thing I notice is that the Native American exhibit is by far the most modern, from the touch-screen displays to the inclusion of clothing and artifacts from the 2000s. It’s a blend of historical and modern artifacts (video game art, t-shirts. Even one of the modern dresses is a mix of modern and traditional design.
  • The other exhibits in the museum are almost exclusively ancient. Most say nothing about the modern day.
  • Native American exhibit is also the most political: it speaks of modern day politics and activism, such as the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the works of modern authors and professors of law, the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team, and so on.


I woke late and scrambled to get out of bed. The “Native American Voices” exhibit would only be at the Penn Museum for a short time, and I didn’t want to risk missing it before it was removed and replaced with something new. It was early afternoon on a brisk spring day when I arrived at the museum, located in the middle of Philadelphia. Banners hung from street lamps in front of the old stone building, advertising the various exhibits on display. I was only there for one exhibit, though the museum had a variety of others that were part of its permanent collection.

I parked my car in the multi-level parking garage, and made sure to write down which section I was parked in so I wouldn’t get lost trying to find my car later on. I then promptly got lost trying to find my way out of the parking garage, and spent several minutes heading up one ramp and down another before I found the exit. Eventually I made my way outside, then circled around to the front of the museum and headed for the main entrance.

My first thought upon entering the museum was that it didn’t seem very Native American. The museum had cold stone floors and dark walls, and looked, well, very museumy. I wandered up to the front desk, looking around. Nothing jumped out at me at first indicating the exhibit I was here to see.

I waited behind a middle-aged couple while they paid for admission and collected their museum map from the plastic holder on the desk. After spotting the map, I grabbed one, along with a few other information pamphlets. One of them had information on the Native American Voices exhibit.

20140313_232730The couple in front of me left and headed to the side, then the man behind the desk told me, “It’ll be $15.00.”

I pulled out my wallet, and spotted a sign behind the man indicating a discount for students with ID. I offered the man my Rowan University ID and he said, “Okay, $10.00.” After I paid, he asked me if I was here to see anything in particular.

“The Native American exhibit,” I said. He told me it was immediately to my left. I turned, surprised that I had missed it, then headed through the broad doorway and into the exhibit.

The first thing that struck me were the voices. They came from speakers set above my head, and spoke with Native American accents. “We are still here,” one voice said.

Several other museum patrons passed by: an old man in a white raincoat with his umbrella tucked into his belt; a young Asian couple, the man wearing an expensive-looking camera on a strap around his neck; a college-aged girl with purple highlights in her hair. They wandered through the exhibit, peering into the glass cases that lined the walls. Each case held a display of Native American artifacts, along with small plaques identifying each item.

“Today, we are getting stronger,” said a voice from above.

I walked past the first glass case, which held a large feathered headdress alongside a pair of lacrosse sticks and a jersey from the Iroqouis Nationals Lacrosse team. Beyond that case was a set of four red benches, surrounding a virtual fire pit that was projected onto the floor by a camera above. The sound of the crackling fire filled the room. I sat on one of the benches to get a feel for the room. The illusion of the fire pit was slightly broken by the fact that the sound came from above while the image of the fire was below.

“Know that we are still here,” another voice said from above.

The Asian couple walked around the outer wall, the man snapping pictures of the artifacts on display. The man in the raincoat walked by me and commented, “I was hearing those noises,” he gestured to the fire, “I thought there must be some heat somewhere in here.”

Many voices from above echoed one after another, “We are still here.”

When the man walked past, his motion triggered a sensor from the camera above. The fire pit was replaced with a short video showing various images of Native American lands, villages, and figures. Several different voices narrated the video, describing their lives in these lands, and how they changed when the Europeans arrived. “We are the first people to inhabit this land,” they said. “We lived in thousands of communities.”

They spoke of oppression, “For centuries, efforts were made to wipe out our heritage, our religion. Our native languages were not to be spoken. Our traditional clothing was not to be worn. Our hair was deemed unsuitable, and cut. Our children were taken away from us. They were taught being Indian was bad. Everywhere, being Indian was not something to be celebrated. But our ancestors survived. And today we survive.”

Several museum patrons stood around and watched as the video began speaking of today’s efforts, and the ongoing fight of the Native American people. “We are reclaiming our sacred lands. Each year, we hold hundreds of gatherings and ceremonies, celebrating our heritage.”

The voices in the video continued to shift, from man to woman, from young to old, as many different people contributed their voice to the video.

“The objects that surround you hold our histories. They tell our stories.”

“See our faces as you explore our preserved histories.”

“Hear our voices in our cultures and arts that still thrive today.”

Then, all of the voices echoed together, “Know that we are still here,” before the video faded, and the virtual fire pit returned.

With the video complete, the museum patrons continued their wanderings. Some lingered at one display or another, tapping the computer touch-screens before each display to learn more about the individual objects in each case. Others continued on, through the next doorway, into an exhibit that showed another part of the world, and a different part of history.

The artifacts on display in the room ranged from the ancient to the modern. A t-shirt from 2010 hung alongside a serape from 1860. A dress from 1880 hung alongside a blouse and skirt from 2013. Pipes, clay pots, and tools from hundreds of years ago hung alongside a piece of art mimicking the style of the Grand Theft Auto video games, depicting Grand Theft Auto, St. Clara Pueblo.

Most of the museum patrons didn’t linger long in this one room. They continued on through the rest of the museum, into rooms displaying artifacts from South America, Africa, Egypt, China, and Japan. The other rooms all showed ancient stone carvings, recreations of old temples, mummies and burial chambers, and statues and art from long ago.

After wandering through the museum for a time, I eventually return to the Native American exhibit. I was struck by how much smaller it was than the other exhibits in the museum. Many of the others had huge stone sculptures and more permanent displays. The Native American exhibit held only small, personal artifacts, and they would only be here until May. Yet it was also the most modern of all the exhibits; not only was it one of the only exhibits to show artifacts from as recently as 2013, it was also one of the only to use computer interfaces for information and to have a video exhibit.

These thoughts lingered with me as I passed through the room on my way back out. A few groups of new patrons had arrived, and were seated around the virtual fire pit. When I walked past, my movements triggered the sensors and started playing the video once again. The newcomers sat quietly and watched, listening to the voices playing from above. I left, pondering the significance of an exhibit that connects the past and the future.

Perhaps, I wondered, it had a deeper meaning. The Native American people are still struggling today to hold on to their culture, their language, and their traditions. Their past isn’t just a part of history; it’s something that was taken from them, and that they’ve struggled for years to reclaim. While I’m not deeply familiar with the histories of many of the other countries whose artifacts were on display in the museum, I do know that those countries still thrive today. Modern day Egypt, China, or Japan might be vastly different from the countries they once were, but they are nations that still exist. For the most part, the same can’t be said for the Native Americans who struggle to this day to be recognized fully under law. Maybe that was why that one exhibit, out of all of them, showed the past and the present side by side.


There were ups and downs to this outing. The upside is that I was able to take my time and take detailed notes. One of the suggestions listed in Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes is that a researcher needs to figure out when to withdraw from their observations in order to sit and jot some things down (p. 48). Since the museum patrons I was observing were wandering around, I found it pretty easy to slip back to the virtual fire pit, sit on a bench, and take notes on what I’d seen. Though in retrospect I realized that I should have taken more notes on the people around me; the descriptions of the museum patrons noted above were done mostly from memory, since I didn’t think to write down any details about the individual people. Though, Fieldnotes (p. 51) does say that a researcher will often work from such “headnotes” in order to construct a detailed account.

I made a conscious effort to avoid (as best as I could) depicting the specific emotions of any of the museum patrons, particularly in regard to the Native American voices in the video and what they said. I wanted to portray specific details, rather than generalizations (Fieldnotes, p. 58), and to avoid attaching my own meaning to anything (Fieldnotes, p. 131). The only exception to this was at the end, when I expressed my final thoughts upon leaving the scene. In those final moments, I wanted to express my “end-point” perspective (Fieldnotes, p. 105) and reflect on the thoughts I had after my experiences. My hope is that these final thoughts will help develop my future research. I feel like the “past and present combined” aspect of this topic is a very important one, not to be ignored.

OSHA-Regulation Hair

The following description is an attempt to capture the visual details of one of the subjects I observed during practice research. Specifically, it is based on my field notes about one of the employees I observed.

The girl behind the deli counter looked like she was a college student. She was of average height, thin, and pale, and she tended to keep her eyes down when talking to a customer. Her uniform included a green apron and a baseball cap with the cafe’s company logo on the front. From my previous experience working in food service, I knew the cap was part of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s regulations on food service requirements:

“Workers should not wear loose-fitting clothing, jewelry, or other items that could become entangled in machinery, and long hair should be worn under a cap or otherwise contained to prevent entanglement in moving machinery.”

In full compliance, the worker’s auburn hair was pulled back in a pony tail which was tucked through the opening in the back of her cap. A few stray tufts of hair stuck out from under the cap, and she had smoothed them back behind her ears. She wore glasses, and the glasses held a bit of the stray hair back at the temples. The pony tail was tied back with a white elastic band, and the tail hung down to about the middle of her back. When she turned from side to side, I noticed that the falls of hair gathered in the tail were wavy and loose. The waves made it seem like her hair didn’t want to be restrained by cap, elastic, and glasses. Instead it seemed as though it should be worn in auburn falls across her shoulders, free from restrictions and OSHA regulations.

OSHA regulations also require you to wash your hands after touching your hair, though I doubt anyone would object to the girl making a cup of coffee after she brushed a stray strand of hair back over her ear, denying it its attempt to find freedom.


Overall, I’d consider all of my “practice research” to be a good learning experience, but not an all-around success. One of the biggest issues I have with human interaction is overcoming my shyness and actually going up to talk to people. The cafe employee described above is someone I observed while lurking behind bookshelves, without actually interacting with her. At one point, I considered making a purchase in order to initiate an interaction, but the sodas at the cafe were $1.95, and I only had about $1.45 left on hand after buying a chai tea and a bagel earlier in the afternoon.

Even during the field research scene I depicted, it was my fellow researcher, Veronica, who actually approached the cashier and engaged her in conversation. We learned far more about the bookstore from her, from the employee concerns to the issues with students, than we ever would have simply by observing from a distance.

This limitation tells me what I will need to do when it comes time for the real thing. I feel like I have a handle on taking notes, reviewing them, and compiling them into a coherent scene. However, I’ll need to be more outgoing and engaging in order to get the kind of interactions I need to really learn about my research subjects. There’s only so much one can learn from a distance. Everyone has a story to tell, but you have to go up and talk to them before they can start telling it.

Last Day For Returns

The following scenes depict my experiences conducting practice field research at a local bookstore, and are compiled from my field notes.


My fellow researchers and I met at a local bookstore on a Tuesday evening, planning to study the locals. We had a short meeting before we began, where we discussed the specifics. There seemed to be several different sub-cultures within the store, and it seemed best to divide ourselves among the different groups in order to maximize our efficiency. After some discussion, it was decided that I would be focusing on the employee-customer interactions. My goal was to gain some understanding of the rituals and customs that dictated the relationships between those who worked in the store, and those who merely came there to shop.

After wandering for a time in search of interactions (at first finding none), I decided to settle in wait while observing the lone cashier who sat at the register. She was an African American woman in her late 30s or early 40s, with glasses and short hair she had pulled back away from her face. She wore a black sweatshirt and a scarf, which seemed strange to me at first. The other employees I had observed had nametags, and those in the cafe wore green aprons that marked them as employees. The cashier, however, was dressed entirely in civilian clothing. If not for her position behind the register, I never would have realized she worked here.

I stood behind a table full of books, trying to act like a casual shopper while I watched and waited for a customer to arrive. While she was waiting, the cashier kept her head down, and she seemed to be reading or texting with a smartphone that was out of sight behind the counter. When a customer finally arrived, the cashier was short and to the point. She rang up his purchase and placed it in a bag while he swiped his card through the reader mounted on the counter. In less than a minute the transaction was complete, and the cashier said, “Thanks.” She then returned to her texting before the customer had exited the building.

I wandered off for a time since there didn’t seem to be much action at the register. I swung by the information desk and saw two young men there, talking. They both wore nametags, however, marking them both as employees. My goal was to observe interaction with a customer. I abandoned the information desk and moved over to the cafe to explore that area. A young man and a young woman were behind the counter, chatting while they cleaned and restocked the supplies. No customers.

It wasn’t long after this that I realized in order to see any customer interactions, I was going to need to create a customer.


After several more failed attempts at finding any interaction, I returned to the cashier and found another of my fellow researchers, Veronica, lingering nearby. Like me, she was hanging back and not directly interacting with anyone. I told her about my concerns, how I didn’t know how I was going to observe any customer interactions if there weren’t any customers. We discussed it for a short time, before Veronica decided to take matters into her own hands.

“I’m going to go talk to her,” she said.

I decided to observe from a short distance away while she approached the cashier and struck up a conversation. It didn’t take long for the cashier to guess at our purpose, at which point she declared that she could tell us all about what really goes on in the bookstore.

The first thing she told us was that the store was cold. She waved a hand at the tall windows behind her and said, “These windows are not insulated.” The then began complaining that the windows in the manager’s office are insulated, which she said was not very fair. Due to the cold, which was made worse every time someone opened the doors right next to the register, she said she had to wear “this,” and gestured to her sweatshirt and scarf.

Veronica continued asking her about what the store was like. “I’ve been here so long,” the cashier said. “I’ve worked here so long. Each semester gets worse.”

She told us that she had been working for the same bookstore chain for several years, but had only transferred to the college bookstore a few semesters back. She had been there long enough, however, to develop some opinions about the college-aged customers who frequented the store.

“How do these kids get into college?” she asked, shaking her head. She then started listing some of the common issues she had with the college customers. “Do you not know when we return books?” she asked.

I looked up at the register and saw a sign mounted there, where it would be in plain view of any customers that approached. It read, in bold black lettering, “Last Day For Returns is 1-27-14.”

Despite the sign, and the stickers placed on the books listing the last day for returns, the cashier said many students come in after the deadline, trying to return their books. She explained how some students will purchase a $200 book before class starts, which sometimes includes a plastic-wrapped set of books and CD-roms. The stickers on the plastic-wrapped packages instruct students not to open them until they are certain they won’t need to return them, since opened packages cannot be returned.

“They clearly don’t read directions,” the cashier said. “And we gave them dang near two weeks. Then kids come in on the 9th [of February], ‘I wanna return my book.'” She also said some of the kids get an attitude, or bring their parents in to argue. “It’s not even the kids – it’s the parents.” One student, she said, even tried to return a book he had purchased the previous semester. She told us how the kid’s father had argued with her about it until she explained to him that the book was from last year.

“Students have no common sense,” she said.

Fieldnotes and Practice Research

As I’ve mentioned a few times lately, I’m currently doing research into racism, sports, and Native American culture. As part of this research, in the near future I have plans to visit a Native American Museum in Delaware (which, unfortunately, isn’t open weekdays until April) and the Native American Voices exhibit at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia (which I will hopefully be visiting this coming Thursday, March 13th, if all goes according to plan). While visiting these museums, I plan to collect as much information as I can, including talking to any experts I might encounter who can share more than what is seen in the exhibits.

In preparation for this, I’ve engaged in some practice field research, taking notes and studying the “culture” of a local bookstore. Alongside my classmates and fellow researchers, I observed a variety of individuals and their interactions. My goal was to capture as much about the moment as possible so that it could later be recreated as a written scene.

This is the first of three “practice research” blog posts where I’ll be compiling the results. Below are pictures of the hand-scrawled fieldnotes I recorded at the bookstore, along with typed translations of my poor handwriting and more complete descriptions in full sentences. There will also be a post dedicated to composing a full scene based on these notes, and then a third dedicated to making a more vivid description of an individual from the bookstore in an attempt to capture and relay their image.

  • Cash Registers:Bookstore Fieldnotes (1)
  • The cashier wears a black sweatshirt, a scarf, glasses, and a small frown. When I first saw her, it seemed strange that she wasn’t wearing any kind of uniform or nametag. If she hadn’t been behind the register, I wouldn’t have known she was a bookstore employee.
  • She sits behind the register, her eyes down on the table before her. She seems to be reading, texting, or doing something else with her smartphone.
  • When a customer approaches she rings him up without saying much, bags his purchase, says “Thanks,” and then returns to her phone before he has even left the store.
  • One of my fellow researchers approaches and engages her in conversation.Bookstore Fieldnotes (2)
  • The cashier says she can tell us about what really goes on in the bookstore. Her first remark is that the store is cold. She gestures to the windows behind her and says, “These windows are not insulated.” She also explains that the windows in the manager’s office are insulated, and complains about the unfairness of that.
  • When we ask, she confirms that the cold (especially with the register being right next to the door) is why she is wearing a sweatshirt and scarf.
  • She then begins telling us about what it’s like to work here. “I’ve been here so long,” she says. “I’ve worked here so long. Each semester gets worse.”
  • She begins complaining about the college students who come to the bookstore and asks, “How do these kids get into college? Do you not know when we return books?”
  • She tells us about an example of a student who bought a $200 textbook before class started, who clearly didn’t read the directions. The bookstore puts a sticker on the books including the latest date that returns are accepted, and telling students not to unwrap the plastic-wrapped books (which include sets of multiple books and sometimes additional CD-roms) until they’re sure if they’re the right ones. Some, she explains, end up with the wrong books or end up dropping the class, but then find they cannot return the book sets that have been opened.
  • She then tells us that even though the bookstore offered an additional extension of nearly two weeks, students still came in after the deadline.Bookstore Fieldnotes (3)
  • A sign right above the cash register reads “Last day for returns is 1-27-14.”
  • Despite this, she says that some kids came in as late as February 9th and said “I wanna return my book,” then they “get an attitude” when she tells them they’re past the deadline for returns.
  • She also says, “It’s not even the kids – it’s the parents.” She tells a story about a student who brought their parents down to the bookstore to try to argue about the return, in one case even when the Bookstore Fieldnotes (4)book was supposed to be returned last semester.
  • She concludes, laughing, that “Students have no common sense.”