PhD Diaries #3:First Attempt at Coding Auto-ethnographic Data

My first PhD performance research project is a chance for me to explore how my planning, practice, and preparation for alternative context performances differ from more traditional classical concerts. To do this, I’ve been collecting data from practice journals, emails between myself and venue organisers, transcriptions of rehearsals with the composer etc. This research is clearly auto-ethnographic, as I’ll be exploring my own experiences and processes to achieve a wider understanding of the field (Pace, 2012). As such, I need a methodology that credits subjectivity.  Within the data set is everything to do with the performances so far, but at the beginning of the week I had no idea what to do with this information. I vaguely knew I wanted to code it somehow, but I wasn’t sure what that meant.

I wasn’t finding anything illuminating by reading through the data; I wrote/created it, and it was serving only to put me back in the mindset I was in at the time. I wasn’t understanding any more details or finding connections.  I felt like I needed to go deeper and look at the data in a new way. This is where Grounded Theory coding is coming in useful.

Although my supervisor has a lot of experience working auto-ethnographically, she tends to work at a broader level, so I didn’t have much guidance in how to do this. I’ve been reading, and although there are lots of resources out there about what coding is in Grounded Theory, there are not many examples, and I was really getting stuck in the how. (Huge shout out at this point to Graham R Gibbs’ YouTube Videos about Grounded Theory.)

 I was tempted by using a flashy computer program, but I kept finding warnings about the dangers of these programmes acting as a barrier between the researcher and the data, and the need for researchers to be immersed in and fully familiar with the data to be effective. Computer programmes can only work according to how they are made, they can only find connections based on predetermined characteristics, but the point of this research is to draw out these connections in an inductive, evolving manner (Butler-Kisber, 2010).  My first attempt at coding was therefore by hand.

I took a journal entry from after a practice in which I was trying to put in the electronics. I first converted this into a table, breaking it up into different incidents. I kept these small, but large enough to be able to stand alone. I then coded them using gerunds. This is important as these words reflect action and avoid the researcher making conceptual leaps too early (Charmaz, 2006). I tried to stick closely to the data.

Trying hard not to get distracted by adding in effects.Getting distracted
 There’s limitless possibilities, so keeping the material so stark for so long is really hard-Feeling overwhelmed
but I want to stick to the concept.Focusing on objective
Just recording and playing around with the first 2 lines took 10 minutes 40 seconds,Focusing on objective
and I wasn’t at all bored or distracted playing it.Feeling motivated
Sam slamming the door downstairs and walking around.Getting distracted
I was initially worried that he was going to come upstairs and disturb meMind wondering
 but I reminded myself of what the concept of the project is-Focusing on objective
 I accepted that as a possibility and reframed that as a valid sound.Self-soothing
Probably best if piece is memorized, but unlike anything else I’ve ever played- it has to be memorized so well that I cam come in and drop out at any point, improvise and harmonize over, create counterpoint on the fly, all whilst still being able to recognize the original. Is that possible?Doubting abilities
Integrating the electronics needs to seem seamless. Is it just a case of practice.Planning future practice
 An initial issue I can see is starting the recording a fraction of a second too late / early and then the loops don’t blend in the way I want- is this a case of accepting it how it is or can I work on getting it more precise?Worrying about performance
Move from 3 into 1 leaves feeling very empty, maybe a more gradual decrease? Planning future practice

As can be seen, there are a lot of ways this could be coded. I might add in a section where I can add in secondary codes so I can look at the information from different angles. But even though I was seeing this as just an initial exercise in coding, I found new information. I was ‘doubting abilities’ because I was practicing in a way I have never been trained for and ‘self-soothing’ because I have never had any external encouragement in preparing in this way. I can see how once I have coded more of the data, drawing out connections and hidden meaning will be much easier in this way.

The hardest thing this week was jumping in. I spent so much time reading and learning about coding, but actually I probably could have just done it much earlier and was really putting it off because I was afraid of getting it wrong. There’s always one more book, one more journal, one more score, but eventually we just have to start doing it for ourselves, instead of using them as an excuse.

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