My thesis advisor is really a quite clever guy. I had a meeting with him this afternoon to discuss the first draft of my fieldwork report that I gave him a couple of days ago, and he really pulled it apart:
“Where’s the anthropological distance? Where’s the methodological reflections?” he demanded, and I must have looked pretty stupid just then.
“You’re just using their categories, the way that they talk about things. You don’t really write about the differences in what they say they do, and what they actually do!” he continued. And I sat there nodding, mumbling “‘spose so”, not only feeling shamed for being accused of forgetting the basic tenets of anthropology, but even more so boiling with frustrated anger: What! I’ve worked hard at this! This report is the first concrete result of 7 months of fieldwork and 3 months of preparation before that! Don’t tell me what I know about this community!
But of course, he was right. He wasn’t doubting what I know or how I came about that knowledge. He was merely pointing out that it did not seem as if I had reflected very much on this myself. To him it seemed as if there had been a point in my fieldwork when I had begun to understand the inherent rules, ideals and social structures of the Ubuntu community so well that I had begun to take them for granted. That I had basically gone native to some extent, and that it would not be enough merely to take me out of the field, but also begin to take the field out of me.
I’ve only been out of the field for a few weeks, but even so, I still bring it with me on my computer. I’m still subscribed to lots of mailing lists, I still hang out on various IRC channels, read a lot of Planets, get bug mail and mails on wiki updates. I’m basically in touch with and exposed to the community all the time, even though I’m supposed to stop gathering data and start analyzing it. And as long as I keep these ties, I will inhibit my own reflective distance as an anthropologist.
As I’ve participated in this community, I have met so many passionate people with so much enthusiasm that it has been impossible not to be smitten by it. This passion is what has helped me to contribute and become so involved with the whole project, and naturally it is also what will make it so hard to leave the Ubuntu community, and the net of on-line communications which it consists of, behind for a while.
Yet that is what I’ll have to do in order to be able to reflect on all that I have learned, seen, and participated in over the last 10 months, I will need to leave the communication channels that the Ubuntu community consists of.
Today Ive unsubscribed from all the Ubuntu mailing-lists, logged off the IRC channels, stopped the wiki page-updates, unsubscribe the Planet RSS feeds, and step down from the Launchpad. I will divert my attention capital elsewhere, to my books, my fieldwork notes and my thesis, but it does not mean that I will stop using Ubuntu or encourage others to do so. I’d like to think that I can still share a bit of the work that happens in the community by using and sharing the system itself.
It’s been really great meeting all of you Ubunteros. You are some of the sweetest, most dedicated and geekiest people I’ve ever met. And I do feel honoured to have gotten to know all of you. I will keep my blog on the Planet Ubuntu, but only posts related directly to Ubuntu will appear here. I do plan to come back to the community once my thesis is done and my university obligations no longer conflict with my newly-found interest and passion for Free Software.
See you in 6 months’ time…