As ethnographers, we talk about places as persistent points in space-time.
We went to this place, we say.
On some occasions, we imply that places are but geographic spots accessible by following a set of directions. On other occasions, we describe places as spaces characterized by specific forms of practice. Often, and this is usually an ethnographer’s key task, we describe what the place was, what happened there, what sort of things were there, who all were there, what did they all do, etc.
A seemingly benign research artifact, our description of a place sets it up in particular ways – simultaneously making few things visible, certain less visible, and others invisible.
In what follows, I provide two different descriptions of a specific place. My aim with these descriptions is two-fold. First, I demonstrate how ethnographers can provide pluralistic accounts of places. I argue that when we describe places, we aren’t just describing practices, geographies, or things. Instead, we are describing our encounters with practices, geographies, and things. Seeing place descriptions as experiential narratives allows us to understand and evaluate them as research devices in and of themselves. Second, I use these descriptions as exercises in experimental ethnographic writing. My hope is that through these descriptions readers get a better sense of the place that an ethnographer visits.
Each of the two description takes a specific perspective on my own experiences at the place, highlighting a key facet of my encounters. I demonstrate how different approaches lead to different vantage points.
Here is Where I Went:
On Thursday, September 14, 2016 I came to visit Porkstop – a local meat shop in Upstate New York. This was my first time at the Porkstop. I had in fact driven by it a few times in the past, but never actually ventured inside. The visit this time was not for shopping on meat supplies, but was directed towards observing the practices of the Porkstop. I wanted to understand how the employees at Porkstop go about their performing their daily activities to run the shop.
I arrive at the Porkstop 7.15 AM in the morning. A friend of mine drops me in the empty parking lot in the front of the establishment. From the lot, I can see that the lights are on inside the shop, but I don’t see anyone side through the glass outside. As I walk towards what I think is the main door of the shop, I see one person working inside behind the counter. The sign on the door says “Closed,” but since I am here in the capacity of a researcher and not a student, I confidently knock on the door to catch the attention of the person working inside. My confidence originates from the fact that I have already talked to the owner of the Porkstop and she herself asked me to come there early in the morning.
My first knock receives no response. Perhaps, this is because the person isn’t expecting anyone to show up, or maybe because I knocked too softly. The second knock, however, is more effective at eliciting a response. The person turns back and looks at me for a good ten seconds, and then points at the “Closed” sign at the door. Assuming that he cannot hear me, I signal to him I would like to have a word with him. He stares back, but decides to come up to the door. However, it looks like the front door is locked and the person doesn’t have the key to open it. He then signals me towards another direction where there is a back door to the establishment. I later learned that he was signalling me towards the employee entrance. Thus, through the employee entrance, I take my first step inside the Porkstop.
In the paragraph that follows, I describe from my field notes, a description of the Porkstop in terms of its structure and layout. I provide specific images to let the reader “see” the places that I describe. The following is a layout map of the Porkstop that I drew based on what I remembered about the place and from notes that I took.
All images in this piece can be clicked. This will open the image in full resolution in a different browser page.
The Porsktop, I now realize, appears smaller from the outside than it really is. I entered the establishment through the employee entrance into – what the employees call – the breakout room. There were two hings that struck me about this room: the smell of coffee, and the plethora of files and paper. There are a number of coffee mugs on the table in the center of the room, and from the immediate smell of coffee it looks like a fresh batch was just brewed not too long ago. The person – Alex – that decided to show me around the place while we waited for the owner to come also asked me if I wanted to have some coffee while we waited. He had his own coffee mug in his hand. The deal, however, was that we needed to have the coffee in the breakout room, because we could not take it inside the establishment. I had a few sips from the coffee mug he handed to me not just because I wanted to taste the brew, but also because I felt that I needed to have it since he mentioned that “coffee is something we all have a lot all through the day.” All this while, I couldn’t take my eyes off the array of paper (packaging and otherwise) and files that were right in front of me. This office looked like any other office – laptops, files, coffee, printers, tables, and chairs.
The Porkstop, as a place, has a number of rooms that cater to specific parts of their work practices. From the breakout room, on my way to the inside of the establishment, me and Alex walked through the washing area. This is the place where all the used utensils and tools area washed and sanitized. The place indeed smells like detergent and there is spilled water everywhere on the floor.
From the washing area, we enter an alley that leads in multiple directions. Alex first takes me to the left to the smoker/boiler room. This room houses a big machine that looks like a refrigerator. The only different is that there are no shelves inside it. The smoker, Alex tells me, is used to smoke the meat (i.e., Pork) to give it the smoky, spicy-ish flavor. The inside of the smoker, as you can see in the image, has water spilled inside it and pieces of pork that got dropped on the floor during the process. The water exists because the smoker also washes the meat prior to smoking it.
From the smoker/boiler room, Alex takes me to the cooking area. The only thing I remember from this place is the strong and amazing smell of bacon being cooked in a steel heating pot that uses boiling water to cook the meat. The cooking pot has two layers of steel around it with space in between them that is filled with boiling water. This, Alex tells me, ensures proper thorough cooking of the meat as it creates a consistent cooking temperature by spreading the heat evenly across the whole pot. Heat cookers, I learned, were not preferred because although they might be faster, they focused the heat in particular places only and thus did not provide even and consistent cooking of the meat.
From the cooking room, Alex then shows me the meat cutting area. We do not enter the area for now since Alex tells me that I need to change my clothing to go into that area, and he would first show me all the other places before we venture in the meat cutting section. He, however, does let me peek inside through the glass on the door through which I can see 5 people working inside on different tables. I cannot clearly make out what they are doing since the glass has stains and moisture on it. I do see that there is meat everywhere and – from what I could tell – half of a pig was hanging on a wire and two other people were trying to cut it up. It is not everyday one gets to see this site, and I found myself staring at it a bit longer than usual. Alex then motions me to follow him.
We then enter the cooler area. As you can tell, this place was chilly and there was meat stacked inside on rails. Alex tells me that meat from the smoker is stored here before it is packed. The low temperature ensures that the meat doesn’t go bad. Surprisingly, even though there was a lot of meat in the cooler area, I could not smell any of it. I presume this was because the temperature was really low in this space. The cooler area wasn’t that big. At one time, if there were four people inside the space it would be difficult for them to move around owing to the restrictions of space. I found myself shivering ever so slightly, and that’s when Alex asked me to follow him into the connecting room.
The room we now entered was slightly bigger and had 4 people working inside. This was the packaging area. This is where the ready to eat meat was brought in and packed either to be shipped or to be put in the Porkstop shop for customers to buy. Two big machines immediately catch my attention. One is a long rectangular machine that is being operated by two people. Because of he big roll of packaging paper on top of the machine, I figured that this was the machine that sealed the meat into packets that had the Porkstop logo on them.
The other machine in the room was taller than the other machine. This machine was currently not in use, even though a person was standing next to it. I looked at the machine for a few seconds trying to figure out what it actually did, but nothing about its design gave anything away in terms of its use. As I moved further in the room, however, to look at the other side of the machine, I saw pieces of slightly deformed pork salami. This is when I figured that this must be the machine that took the long cylindrical pieces of meat that I saw in the cooler room, and cut them up in salami shapes. I asked Alex if that was indeed the case, and he told me that I was right.
The packaging room had three doors. One was the door to the cooler room through which me and Alex had entered. Another door led to the meat cutting area. There was a third door through which Alex took me to another room that was the warehouse and shipping area. This was the place where the packaged meat was stored in labelled boxes ready to be shipped (there was a door here that led to the backside parking where trucks could come and take the boxes) or ready to be placed in the shop at the front side of the Porkstop (there was another door here that lead directly to the shop area). The video below shows what was kept in the warehouse and shipping area.
I would request the reader to watch every video in this piece completely before moving on. The piece uses the contents of each video in subsequent description.
Finally, Alex took me to the front area that was the main customer facing area of the Porkstop. This was the place where customers came in to buy meat as well as other condiments, spices, and products made and sold by the Porkstop. This room looked nothing like the rooms that I had just seen on my tour with Alex. This was the cleanest space of the Porkstop with well-organized products lined up on different shelves. A number of labels and signs marked the walls of this space, providing descriptions of the products as well as price information. This was, by far, also the most colorful space in this establishment. All the other places inside were marked by white colors (walls and tables) or red (the meat). But, this room was an assortment of colors of all kinds. I say this space was the cleanest because even though some of the inner spaces at Porkstop were characterized by white lab coats, sanitized tables, hand gloves, and hairnets, they still gave the impression of being dirty mostly because of the nature of work that happened in those places: cutting up the meat, small pieces of pork lying down on the floor, the strong smell of chemicals, and the constant busting chaos of the butchery.
Finally, after Alex had showed me the shop, we went back inside where I waited for the owner to come so that I could meet her and then, with her permission, begin my task of spending a day here to observe how it is that work is accomplished here at the Porkstop.
Here is What Happened:
How the Thing Moved
In the previous section, I presented one way of describing the place that I visited. My strategy there was to present a layout map of the place, and then take the reader on a journey through my first interaction with the diversity of things at Porkstop. Through the map, photographs, and a couple of videos, my aim was to virtually take the reader on a journey with me as I explore Porkstop for the first time. What can be the use of such a description? In this section, I demonstrate how using the aforementioned description, an ethnographer – in this case, me – can present a specific story.
A lot of things caught my attention during my journey with Alex: smell, machines, temperature, colors, etc. More importantly, looking at my field notes over and over again, I wondered how Alex chose in what order he should show me the rooms at Porkstop? Why did Alex take me to the cooler from the cooking room? Why did he take me to the smoker room first? I wondered about this, until I realized that there is no way for me to get inside Alex’s head to know the exact reason. Even more, it is impossible to know if there was even a reasoning behind it – maybe he was just acting subconsciously and deciding on the spot.
However, when I was analyzing my field notes from the day’s visit, I saw that through Alex’s tour, I had been given a specific perspectives of the work practices at Porkstop. Since Porkstop mainly dealt with meat products, I realized that an interesting way to demonstrate what happens at Porkstop is to, quite literally, follow the meat. I use the map below to present to the reader the movement of the meat at Porkstop. The specific thing that I attempt to showcase through this is how is it that the most basic and elemental constituent of Porkstop moves through the establishment.
Porkstop deals with pork, but in a specific form. Pork arrives at Porkstop in the form of pig halves. Pigs – with severed heads – are delivered to the Porkstop in halves with two halves comprising one full pig. These are stored in the pig halves storing area that is a temperature controlled room in which pig halves hang from a rope that is movable so as to allow these pig halves to be easily transported to the nearby meat cutting room.
In the meat cutting room, 5-8 people work on the pig half, breaking it down into a variety of pieces depending on what orders they have received as well as what are the products that they sell on a daily basis in their own shop. Although the meat cutting area has some tools and machines to aid meat cutting, the process is by no means automated. A lot of the work is manual, requiring employees to cut the meat, choose the best parts, throw away bad parts, clean the meat, convert it into particular forms (e.g., minced meat that can become sausage). Even with a machine – such as the sausage maker (yes! there is such a wonderful machine), it is not the case that the meat simply goes in the machine and sausages come out. Preparatory work is required to set up the machine in particular ways. Moreover, the sausages produced by the machine then have to be broken apart (the machine produces a series of sausages all attached to each other).
In the video below, we see how Alex first sets up a thin plastic-like covering dipped in liquid at the mouth of the machine. The covering seems incredibly elastic considering that it is first set up on the small mouth of the machine, and the covering expands as the meat is filled inside it. The machine can be set up to decide how much meat goes inside each sausage, how long the sausage need to be, etc. We also see in the video that Alex’s hands move in particular ways as he takes the machine’s output and places it on the table.
There is also a specific practice involved in producing sausages. During my time in this room, I observed Alex doing something specific to the sausages once they came out of the machine. He used a fork-like instrument (with three thin prongs) to poke holes in each sausage. On asking, why he was doing that, Alex smiled and told me that this was done so that when people put sausages in the barbecue or oven, they don’t pop. The holes made by the prong ensured that there was a way for hot air to be released from the sausage. A fascinating, yet seemingly simple maneuver, that ensured safety while cooking sausage. In the video below, we see Alex doing this to a set of sausages that have just been produced.
From the meat cutting area, the meat moves to the smoker where it is prepared and cured to be ready to eat. Some of the meat finds its way to the cooking room where it is prepared into bacon or other forms of cooked products. From the smoker, as mentioned earlier, the meat moves to the cooler room that acts as a temporary stop for the meat on its way to the packaging room. In the packaging room, a couple of things are done with the meat. For instance, the meat cutting machine takes the smoked meat and creates salami out of it. This can be seen in the video below:
As we can see, the machine outputs a set of thin, circular pieces of meat stacked on top of each other. These are then picked up by an employee and put on a measuring scale. Once a desired weight is reached, the weighted stacks are kept aside separately.
These weighted stacks are then taken by another employee and wrapped in a cylindrical plastic bag. The small stacks are put on top of each other such that the final plastic package contains a long cylindrical stack of salamis. A key thing to note here is that the employee in charge of doing this always creates two plastic packages of salamis before handing it out to another employee. This, as I will describe, is not random, and has to do with the limitation of another machine used in the packaging process.
Once the two plastic packages are ready, another employee takes these packages and sets them up in another machine.
This specific machine is actually a vacuum machine that sucks all the air out of the plastic packages and seals them up. This, as one of the employees told me, is done to ensure that the salamis last longer.
Now, the interesting thing about the salami producing machine is that it can output salami not only as salamis stacked on top of one another, but also as a set of salamis that overlap but don’t completely stack on top of one another. This mode, as we will see, is used to create another form of packaged salami that is different from the vacuum-sealed cylindrical plastic packages. Salami produced in this way is then picked up by hand and put in a different machine that has empty, thin, and long rectangular plastic packages. Here is a video showing how such salami is prepared and placed in another machine:
This machine in which the overlapping salami is loaded then does two things. First, it uses special form of packaging paper to put on top of the empty rectangular boxes in which the overlapping salami has just been placed. Second, it uses heat to seal these packages along the rim of the boxes. The machine, for reasons unknown to me, works at a slow pace. A number of times the employees had to wait before placing more salami in the machine because the machine was still processing the salami already loaded. Here is a video of this machine in action:
Once sealed, the machine outputs two of these boxes at a time through the other end. These boxes are collected by hand by another employee who then picks them up from his left hand in a swift motion, and with another hand uses a sticker gun to attach price information on them, and then uses a punching machine to punch two holes at the top of these boxes. The labeled and punched packets are then thrown into a big box. The holes, as explained to me by the employee, are punched so that these packages can be hung on a display rod in the shop. Here is a video demonstration:
An interesting side note is that the machine not only produces these packages, but also outputs something more. The floor around the machine is always overflowing with water. At first, I thought that this was the excess water perhaps from floor cleaning and washing. However, on closer inspection, I saw that this water was being used and then thrown out by the packaging machine. An employee explained to me that this happens because the machine uses extremely hot plates to seal the boxes, and thus requires water to keep the temperature in check:
Moving on, the packages from this machine are then picked up by another employee. What happens next is a two-part process. First, an employee takes long rectangular sheets to create brown boxes out of them. These boxes don’t just exist on their own. An employee is always working on creating these boxes that are delivered at Porkstop in its unmade form. Once these boxes are created labels are put on these boxes by the same employee (sometimes with the help of another) to mark the contents of the box as well as information about what date it was packed on and at what time. The boxes then are placed on a table with open tops.
Second, once a set of boxes is ready, another employees takes the labelled and punched packages produced by the packaging machine, and loads them in these boxes. Here is a video of this loading in action:
These boxes are then sealed and kept in the shipping and warehouse room next door. Some of these packages are directly transferred to the Porkstop shop in the front, while some are just stored in the warehouse area to be picked up later. The video below shows how through the other door in the warehouse area, the packaged meat in boxes was taken out, put in a truck, and shipped off to another location.
Here is where I went:
An Artifact Appears
In the section above, I did two things. First, I presented one way to describe the Porkstop establishment. For this, I used Alex as a guide in my story to tell the reader what Porkstop looks like, and how I navigated inside it. Second, I then used my description – as a spring-board as well as a vantage point – to narrate the story of how one of the most essential constituent of Porkstop – i.e., meat – moves in the establishment.
In this section, my aim is to present another way to describe Porskstop. For this, I won’t use Alex as a guide anymore, but will instead mention a key thing that Alex pointed out to me within the first five minutes of my visit: a regulatory requirement that I needed to follow if I were to spend time at Porkstop. I then use this regulatory requirement as a pivot in my story to describe to the reader what Porkstop looks like as a place.
There is one important thing that the reader needs to know before proceeding. The description below can act as a standalone description of Porkstop. However, in what follows I will not describe the details of the various rooms at Porkstop as I did in the previous description. I do this just so avoid repetition and for brevity sake. The reader can assume that if the above description were not present, I would have provided the room details (along with the pictures and videos) in this description as well.
As soon as I entered Porkstop through the employee entrance, I was in a room that Porkstop employees referred to as the breakout space. This was a room filled with the aroma of coffee, and overflowing with paper and coffee mugs. The person from the front shop (who had beckoned me here) was here along with an employee that seemed to be in charge because the person from the front desk immediately introduced me to this person and said that I can talk to him. This new person was Alex – a guy who looked like he was in his early 30s, wearing black trousers, a white lab coat, and hair that seemed sticky.
I told Alex that I had a chat with the Porkstop owner and she had asked me to come in here today (Thursday, October 14, 2016) early in the morning to observe how work was done at Porkstop. He immediately took out his phone (and started texting), and told me to wait in the room. He then went to another room where I could not see him, but came back within a couple of minutes. “I just had a chat with the owner, and it looks like she is running a bit late, but should be here shortly. Why don’t you have a cup of coffee while we wait for her?” Noting that the smell of coffee were everywhere (even Alex was holding his own coffee mug), I went for it. After a few sips of coffee, Alex said that the Porkstop owner asked him to give me a quick tour of Porkstop while I waited for her. I kept my bag and coffee mug down, and started to follow Alex into the other room. That’s when he stopped me.
“Oh, you have to wear a coat and hairnet to go in,” Alex said. He then walked over to a while cloth closet in the corner near the entrance door, to take out a clean coat for me. I took the coat and wore it, making sure that I wore it the same way that Alex was wearing it. Because the coat was a tad bit small for my size, I had to remove my jacket to wear it properly. It was early in the morning, and Albany gets a bit chilly. Once I wore the coat, and it was clear that Alex felt that I was now ready, he then went over to the other corner of the room and started to go through some boxes kept on the shelf over the computer table. After approximately 2-3 minutes, he came back to me and handed over a folded paper and asked me to “wear this as well.” This was confusing. I had no clue how to wear paper! It was only when I opened the folded paper that I found what was inside – a thin black rolled-up ball of thread that seemed to be called a hairnet. I unwrapped it and put it over my head. This, Alex told me, was to make sure that hair did not fall into the meat. It was at this point I realized that it wasn’t that Alex’s hair were sticky. He was actually wearing one of these!
Once I had worn these, Alex proceeded to take me inside. We passed by a room that Alex told me was the washing area. From the washing area, we entered into an alleyway that went in multiple directions. From here Alex took me to three different rooms – smoker room, storage room, and cooking room. After the cooking room, I went to the other door in the area to the left of the cooking room because I had seen 4-5 people working there through the glass on the door. However, Alex instead took me to another room – cooler room – because he said we require a new coat to enter that room. “Why?,” I asked. He said that because there was raw meat inside the room, it requires a different coat to be worn because you cannot go anywhere else in the building if you go inside that room wearing the same coat. You would have to change the coat every time you came out of that room. Alex then proceeded to take me to the cooler room, packaging room, and warehouse and shipping area. Finally, through the warehouse, we enter the Porkstop shop – the front-facing room where customers came in to buy meat, condiments, and spices made by Porkstop.
Later in the day, as I was going through my field notes from my visit at Porkstop, I realized that Porkstop was a special place in that it was really guided by regulations made by other organizations. There were regulations about how temperature of meat is controlled, about the need for maintaining temperature logs, the requirement of sanitizing and cleaning the places touched by the meat, etc. However, there was one key regulation that really dictated how things were organized. This was the requirement of the coat and hairnet.
The layout map below shows the Porkstop establishment in terms of this key requirement. Porkstop has three main areas. First, there is a raw meat coat area. These are the pig storage and meat cutting areas in which employees have to deal with raw, untreated meat. To be in this area, one must wear a coat, and this coat cannot be worn in the other areas. Second, surrounding the raw meat area on all sides is the ready to eat meat coat areas. These are rooms in which employees deal with cooked and/or treated meat. To be in this area, one also needs to wear a coat, but a coat that has not been inside the raw meat areas. The ready-to-eat meat areas comprise of smoker room, cooking area, cooler room, packaging room, and warehouse and shipping area. Third, there is the no coat area. These are areas at Porkstop where employees are explicitly told not to wear a coat. There are two rooms that are no coat spaces. One is the front shop in which all the customers come, and the other is the breakout room at the back of the establishment through which I entered. The washing area is an in-between space – sometimes I saw employees there without a coat, and sometimes with it. There are coat hanging places strategically placed at different points in Porkstop. These are indicated by the hanger symbol on the map below.
But, what two different coats? It is because raw meat has certain forms of bacteria that area dangerous not just to humans, but also to ready to eat meat. Different coats ensure that one form of bacteria do not travel to other rooms to avoid contamination. However, Alex told me an interesting fact about how bacteria travels between rooms. At least from what I saw, at Porkstop it is assumed that bacteria can also travel on the floor. This happens perhaps with spilled water on the floor, or raw meat or cooked meat particles on the floor. Since employees are only required to change coats (and not their whole attire including shoes) between room, who is to stop bacteria from travelling through shoes? This is where another key part of Porkstop comes into picture: the bio-hazard chemical lines on the floor. The placement of these lines is shown on the map above using the bio-hazard symbol. Porkstop uses a blue-colored chemical in-between rooms to ensure that bacteria do not travel through spilled water or on the employees’ shoes. The chemical, however, is corrosive, and this is the reason that employees wear large rubber gum boots to avoid harm to their personal shoes while working at Porkstop.
Here is What Happened:
How I Moved
As the reader must have noticed, the above description is different from the one provided earlier. The focus here is not so much on Alex taking me through Porkstop, but on how areas within Porkstop can be seen to be divided into three different parts based on what coat you are wearing, and whether you are even wearing a coat. What can such a description – that focuses on coats as way to demarcate space – tell us? As it turns out, a description focused on coat areas can actually help the reader understand a key part of my visit to the Porkstop. Let’s see how.
How does an ethnographer navigate a new space? Do they rely on specific people, such as Alex, to show them around? Do they go first to spaces that they find interesting? Do they rely on their gut instinct? Often times, it is a combination of these factors. However, in my case, my movement – as an ethnographer – at Porkstop was affected not merely by a specific individual or just my gut instinct. My trajectory through the place was, in fact, based on my coat. As it so happens, there was only one fresh coat available at Porkstop. This was the coat that Alex gave me to wear. Because I had no other coat to change into, if I ventured into the meat cutting area first, I wouldn’t be able to go into any other area at Porkstop because of the regulation around coats. I would then have to stick to the meat cutting area, the shop, and the breakout room. This would definitely be a problem considering the fact that I was here at Porkstop to observe how work happened, and work did not just happen in three spaces. How should I then navigate my way around here?
I decided to skip meat cutting, and go on to other areas first. This was an atypical choice for me. When thinking about meat shops, one of the first things that comes to mind is the cutting of meat itself. As an ethnographer if I were to follow the basic element around at Porkstop – i.e., meat – meat cutting area should have been my first stop. Indeed, in the earlier description, I presented Porkstop work practices in terms of how meat moves. However, me – as another kind of meat – moved differently. The map below provides a description of how I moved inside Porkstop. The circles indicate spaces in which I spent the most amount of time.
As can be seen, I clearly avoided the meat cutting area till the very end. It was only when I had – according to my gut feeling – observed rest of the spaces adequately, that I went inside the meat cutting area. The nature of this gut feeling is difficult to describe. How does one know that ethnography is over? What does it mean to observe a space adequately? These are questions with no clear cut answers. I use the word “gut feeling” here to describe a feeling of knowing that even though spending more time at a place might let you capture a wider diversity of experiences, the time that you have already spent is enough to capture some semblance of what happens in that space. The story that I told in the earlier section fails to capture this gut feeling – the understanding that one must now move on to another area having spend adequate or enough time at one place. In that story, I describe how the meat flows through Porkstop, transforming at every step into something different. Although that story isn’t false or misleading, it does fail not only in capturing an important part of my own experience at Porkstop, but also makes it sound like I also followed the meat around like any good ethnographer who has read Latour would.
Things in practice aren’t that clear-cut, though. Sometimes another actor – in this case, the coat – dictates how I follow other actors. Moreover, some other actors – like the bio-hazard chemicals – dictate how other actors such as bacteria may not move around. Ethnographic descriptions are narratives of our encounters with spaces. These encounters are not just shaped by our theoretical underpinnings and empirical imperatives, but also by artifacts, people, and situations that we meet as we explore and construct the “field site” with and through our encounters.