Fieldwork Journal

Fieldwork journals should include all of the following:

1. date, time and location of your fieldwork

2. descriptive, detailed language concerning the assigned location and its built space and human geography

3. Note new minimum word count: 450 words.

4. minimum 3 PROPERLY SIZED photos

This assignment is graded as follows:
100 = the assignment was MET and submitted by the deadline.
75 = the assignment was NOT MET and submitted by the deadline.
0 = the assignment was NOT submitted by the deadline.

The Fieldwork Journal (FJ) is meant to be a record of urban wandering and exploration, a form of participant-observation, a situated reading and interpretation of the spaces you navigate. It consists of concrete details and vivid imagery combined with a thoughtful and informed interpretation of events, objects, places, and people. In other words, in writing a Fieldwork Journal your goal is to show the elements of the space you traverse and what they mean in their context.

In order to keep things interesting, take a look at the two concepts below, which will help you to make the most of this assignment.

Concept 1: Thick Description. Taken from anthropology, this term denotes context-specific observation. The writer doesn’t merely record what they see but offers verbal description within a particular social framework. An account of people watching a parade or attending a political rally, for instance, should emphasize the details of the crowd— their dress and behavior— and tie those visible elements to the significance of the situation. The goal is to render the setting/ milieu and interpret it at the same time.

Concept 2: Psychogeography. This term derives from the urban theorizing of the Situationists, and emphasizes the emotional valence of particular places and the social action that animates them. What does the space in question feel like? What memories or associations does it evoke? Our whole world is saturated with meanings. The significance of social spaces (Ft. Point, the tunnel at Sutro Baths, etc.) exceeds their immediate purpose or function and includes an emotional charge. The exterior of a prison, for instance, suggests the power of the state over individuals or the ways that inequality produces suffering. The park where I used to meet my friends may generate nostalgia, warmth, or melancholy. The built environment and its social theater elicit our psychological responses. We read them from a particular point of view.

To clarify: the FJ isn’t a shopping itinerary. It’s not a restaurant review. It’s not an I-wandered-around-campus journal. 

I want you to go into the City to observe its social rhythms. Watch people going about their business. If you take the time to consider anyone working, for example— MUNI drivers, house painters, horchata vendors, et al—  you’ll understand the truth of the observation that there is no such thing as unskilled labor. 

Give me lush detail and interpret what you see. What does your space mean in relation to SF? What does it mean from where you stand?

When I go to Fisherman’s Wharf there’s no escaping the fact that the City depends on a tourist economy. What do tourists expect to find? When I stroll through the Financial District I see ambitious white collars in $800 shoes stepping around people crashed out on the sidewalk. Is there a better illustration of capitalism? 

All of this meaningful. It signifies profoundly at the level of culture and society. 

The City is a riddle and your job is to shed some light. 


  1. Buddy up.
  2. Rely on your eyes and instincts.
  3. Talk to strangers.
  4. Always go into bookstores.