Fieldwork diaries volume 2: Am I a local yet?!

So, another month down and I’ve almost got to my target of interviewing 30 fishermen! Spending week in, week out down here, I’m starting to feel like a bit of a local in Brixham – a coveted title that I’m sure I won’t properly achieve but I certainly feel like I know the town pretty well by now! This fieldwork seems to have gone quickly whilst also at times painfully slowly. I started in January in the depths of winter when most of the fleet was tied up at the quay and fishermen were despairing over when they could next get out. Gradually the weather has ebbed away into sunshine and calmer winds, and now the true beginnings of summer seem to be on their way (fingers crossed!). The kiosks are open, ice creams are being served and the high street is buzzing. I have slowly fallen in love with Brixham and the people in it.

But gosh, it’s been a hard slog. The concept of social fieldwork doesn’t seem too difficult when you start off, it’s just talking to people right?! But as I alluded to in my last blog post, and will again now, social fieldwork is hard work! Finding people and pinning them down is a constant up-hill battle, and at times there have been days on end where I have sat in cafes after many rejections anxiously wondering if I’ll ever reach my target. But equally, it’s been extremely rewarding and I absolutely love it. With a bit of persistence and an open mind, the stories I have been told, the people I have met and the things I have been able to see and experience have been brilliantly fascinating and eye opening.

So, as now seems to be custom for my blog posts these days, here’s another list of things I’ve learnt along the way.

1. You drink ridiculous amounts of tea and coffee

I mean, I’m an academic so I drink a lot of caffeine anyway. But during this fieldwork I have drank so much tea I may as well just have it in an IV drip hooked up to my arm.

2. It’s really unpredictable and you’re never sure where you stand

People are difficult creatures to work with, and fishermen are no different. Some weeks I’ve had one interview, other weeks I’ve had six. It’s hard to know exactly how your day or week is going to go and how many people you’ll manage to talk to, which makes planning a bit difficult. You just have to go with the flow, drink more tea (or gin) and just keep pestering people.

3. It’s tiring

Seems a funny one to state, and perhaps surprising given a lot of the time it’s just talking to people in cafes. But interviewing is a totally different thing compared to a normal conversation with someone and it can be very mentally draining. I didn’t expect it to be so tiring, so for anyone reading this about to embark upon social fieldwork, beware!

4. Everyone learns who you are and what you do 

So the thing is, if you hang out in a small town all week, every week for more than a month you start to get to know everyone in that town. Which is great, because everyone I’ve met so far has been really nice. But it’s also a bit disconcerting at times when people come up to you and say things such as ‘I’ve heard about you…’ or, more commonly on the fish quay (in a jokey way, I hope) ‘Oh bloody hell not you again!’ It’s all fun and games going through the initiation of becoming part of the furniture and a Brixham local (a coveted title which I will probably never achieve).

5. It’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster

Like with anything I guess, some days are great and I have the best time. Other days are really hard, particularly if you have a difficult interview or don’t manage to get anybody to talk to. Being able to keep going and push on is really the only way to get through. Gin or cider (or any alcoholic beverage really) often helps.

6. You become a grade A stalker 

Unintentionally, I’ve ended up basically stalking a number of people who I know I really need/want to talk to but as yet don’t know them. It sounds creepy but I wait for these boats to come in by tracking them on marinetraffic.com, and then I further stalk them by watching the quay and walking round hoping to bump into them. In any other context I would seriously question my behaviour but in this it seems perfectly legit. Anything in the name of research, right??

7. People surprise you with their generosity and interest

Some people have quite frankly been an absolute pleasure to meet and talk to. They have been so generous with their time and willingness to share their knowledge, which has been great! I’ve also been given cups of tea, fish, pictures and drawings, trips on boats in addition to countless nuggets of information. Those moments are special.

8. The local cafe becomes your office 

I have one cafe where I continuously work now. I love it. I know the staff and the regular customers and even their dogs. Going back to Exeter is going to be difficult as there won’t be a continuous stream of tea, cake and unsuspecting fishermen walking through the door all the time.

9. You become good at distilling your science into 20 second bitesize chunks

As I wander up to a boat trying to find the skipper, I know that I only have a limited amount of time to try and get that person to be interested in what I have to say and convince them to take part in an interview. Inevitably I have had to learn to distill my scientific research into what is basically a sales pitch.

I’m not entirely sure how much longer I have left of my fieldwork as there are still a few particular boats I’d like to talk to but the fleet is now much harder to reach given the weather is better. Admittedly, I am also in no desperate rush to get back to the office – whilst I’m keen to get down to analysing all this information, I’m also really enjoying meeting so many different people and hearing their stories. Plus the ice cream is pretty good here! I suspect I’ll be done in the next few weeks, so obviously now I’m making sure to also take lots of pictures of this lovely town. Some are below!

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