I've been listening to a podcast called Radio Diaries, published by Radiotopia in San Francisco. Each episode weaves together audio evidence - ambient noises, news reports, interviews, archival materials - to situate the listener in a narrative and its context, from an older woman's struggle defending her home against the coal industry to the sentiments of North Carolina prison guards. The episodes are far too short (20 min), but when they randomly pop up on my podcast feed 1-2 per month, I listen to them before anything else.
The podcast got me thinking about the role of audio recordings as qualitative data. I've recorded and analyzed a good number of interviews and focus groups over the past couple years. However, the audio data collected using these methods are generally distilled into transcripts, coded, re-coded, [...] until you're left with a theory and a couple salient quotes for your publication. It's not a bad strategy; a great deal can be drawn from participants' statements. But there are limits to what can be learned about unspoken conditions encountered by the participant, e.g., the social and environmental quotidien that may seem so obvious and commonplace that it's not brought up by the participant or, for that matter, the researcher.
Capturing day-to-day life using multimedia is not a novel concept. The reading list for my upcoming comprehensive exam has several studies where daily life is recorded by/with the participant to complement their statements (and other data). I'm new to studying the geographies of everyday movement, however, and I've spent the past months toying around with the experiences of my own life to see what meanings I can generate from audio recordings of day-to-day activities.
Here are a handful of recordings that I picked up on Apple's Voice Memos app:
So, I'm becoming more comfortable with other methods of data collection and reflection. The audio recordings spark off memories of the environmental context and my sentiments while I experienced them, even months after the environment was recorded. The audio recordings generate different sentiments than photographs of the same moment. The audio is also continuous, not static like a photograph in a journal article.
How can audio and visual evidence complement each other? Studies using "photo diary" and participant-filmed video demonstrate that rich Radio Diary-type stories can emerge. My lab has explored the possibilities while testing our GoPro over the past couple weeks. The GoPro is a proactive video camera, i.e., designed for passive recording while mounted to a person or object. It is my hope that over the coming months, I can illustrate the value of proactive camera technology as a means to capture the senses and sentiments of people as they move through everyday life.
But alas, that's all you're going to learn for now. I'm sleepy, and I want to successfully visit the gym tomorrow before work.
Next Post Preview: I'll delve into my latest book purchases including cover-art and, if I've had my coffee that day, a couple reviews.