the (often) meandering travels of a student anthropologist
Timeline of Fieldwork
What follows is a timeline of my fieldwork from October 2016–when I first purchased Juno–through the end of March 2018, when I returned from my travels out west camping with the women nomads gathering to attend the annual Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.
Each block on the timeline leads further into the project (which is under development and will continue through Fall of 2019).
Rather than a traditional ethnography, I have chosen to present information in a nonlinear, digital, and interactive format. You will find field notes, image galleries, audio interviews, narrative portraits of participants, the results of questionnaires, resources, and more in an presentation that is meant to be explored rather than formally presented. You can read more about that, and my reasoning, in the Discussion of Methods.
Much of this presentation is underscored by a sense of narrative because I personally believe that story is the most powerful tool that we, as anthropologists, have at our disposal to translate "other" in meaningful and active ways. I also put forward the argument that this project is more autoethnography, than not. In other words, my own experience is at the center of my findings.
Finally, this presentation, is by intent, a work in progress (at least through 2019). The development is part of the nonlinear process I am hoping to achieve in presenting a digital ethnography. For those that follow during this time frame, the creation of the presentation becomes a journey in and of itself. Not only will content be added in an ongoing, but existing content will also be revisited and revised. The human experience–the human identity–is not static. It is revisionist. We constantly redefine our understanding of the world around us. And just as a nomad's journey is seasonal and cyclical, often revisiting past camps and renewing past acquaintances, so this ethnography also follows a similar concept of movement.
Autoethnography begins with a personal story...
OCTOBER 2016: FINDING JUNO
For many women choosing a life on the road, the boundary between intangible dream and committed reality is crossed when they acquire the vehicle they are going to live in. I wanted to know what factors into their decisions? What are their motivations? Their challenges?
SPRING - SUMMER 2017: RENOVATIONS
My choice of an older vehicle for my fieldwork was deliberate. It would force me to acquire skills that I presumed women on the road needed in order to succeed. What I discovered during the renovations was that my journey would start before I ever left the driveway.
OCTOBER 2017: WEST OR BUST
On the road and facing what I was most afraid of - breaking down and being vulnerable. Men go on the road to have adventure. They follow their bliss like Kerouac's Sal and Dean. The classic road narrative for women is much different.
THANKSGIVING 2018: I FIND THE TRIBE
Potlucks. Companionship. Forging bonds. The people drawn out here, often by what they've seen on social media may or may not find their mecca. Who are the women that have made it to this desert? Does what they find meet their expectations?
A NEW YEAR: PLANS LIKE JELLO
Nomad groups and static communities have always lived in tension at their borders. After the perceived threat of stay limits being enforced, like a flock of startled pigeons, the group splits up to find other places to roost until the RTR. I head south of the border with several others to try "medical tourism". What are the challenges for nomads in finding resources and maintaining their rootless life within the narrow lanes of a privately owned America?
JANUARY 2018: THE RTR
The annual Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) is a two-week organized event in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) desert east of Quartzsite, Arizona. This year there is an additional 'women's only' event that stirs up controversy. In some respects this is surprising, in other ways not. What are the differences are there between men and women on the road? Is there any change in gender norms in this fringe community? What about fringe living changes social patterns?
POST RTR: WANDERINGS
Forced by circumstance, seeking medical care for Freyja, I travel alone again. Not in a linear, but more circular pattern. I move between camps where I know no one to those with old friends, but who now camp in different configurations. In traditional societies, nomads didn't just wander - they made deliberate movements to feed and water their flocks along with the seasons. I find modern nomads are not so different as they balance their need for resources with socialization.
MARCH 2018: THE JOURNEY HOME
The desert begins to heat up, and I'm wary of getting caught in the deadly spring storms that will threaten my southeastern trajectory so I head east. I have last experience common to many female rubber tramps during part of their yearly cycle–moochdocking in family's driveway. What are the contradictions between the desire for rootedness, for heath and home, and the call of movement and the road?