Running through the field

I have been struggling to find the right group of people for my research. It's been 5 and a half months here, and I feel like so much of my work has been piecemeal. Of course, we tend to read ethnographies that have been carefully crafted after the fact. And I have found that it takes months or years after doing work to see some of the connections between things that at the time seemed utterly unrelated. I'm a slow thinker, or maybe everyone else is, too, they just put up a good front.

I finally sent a request to the mothers' group that I've been attending monthly. I had hesitated to recruit actively because I thought it was important to put some time in observing meetings and getting to know people. Because the meetings only happen once a month, and the same mothers do not always attend, it's been hard to really create ongoing relationships. I joined the group, paid its membership fee, and I volunteered as the notetaker for the group. This ensures I'll be there every month, as I've committed to a responsibility to the group, but it also allows me to feel like I'm giving back, even if only a little bit. I sent my request, and I've already gotten a few moms who are willing to let me tag along and interview them. It's exciting to suddenly have things take off and feel like there might be more work still to do.

I've been frustrated with my project because although I love that it takes me all over, and that I can't be so narrow-focused to only talk to parents about the vaccine I'm researching, it feels like it keeps getting diffused. My secret fantasy (ok not so secret) is to have my own little pocket-sized academic guru to nudge me or kick me in the shins when I'm going in the wrong direction. I would also like this little guru to plan things out for me, so that I can see the broader picture. Though, judging from my past attitudes and behaviors, the odds are good that I would hate having prescribed paths, and I'd probably just do the opposite of what the guru told me to do. In other words, maybe I just want something to rebel against -- too much freedom!! I want to have to challenge someone, but sadly, in the field, there's only me and it's tricky to rebel against oneself. (I think that might be called a psychic break?)

In many ways, I'm enjoying the meandering nature of my research. I've been writing so much on autism, even though it's so far from my original field of study. I suspect that it's something I'll follow up on in the future. I remain conflicted as to whether the vaccine I'm studying has any real presence in parents' minds. Part of the problem, as I mentioned, is that I'm not meeting with parents who have kids the right age for the vaccine. Talking to parents of small children means they're focused on the early-childhood vaccines and the concerns about developmental issues and dangers. I'm not sure if my vaccine fits into the same set of concerns. In fact, I suspect it doesn't. This is a reminder that I need to try to increase my contact with the parents of older kids. The concerns are very different when you've been taking care of a child for 10-15 years. Most of the moms I've met have young kids, and so the experience of parenting is new, with all its anxieties and hopes to get it just right.

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