After nearly three weeks of fieldwork interviews in Bosnia-Herzegovina, I think I am suffering from an ailment that could be called ‘fieldwork neck’. It’s a result of sitting to interview people in noisy cafes with unrelenting background music playing. In order to hear the conversation, I lean forward and inevitably, my head goes further forward than my neck and shoulders. And I hunch, dropping down into my shoulders. Then, because the topics under discussion in my interviews are fairly involved, and because I am thinking hard and making connections between what people are describing and what I have learned from earlier interviews, I sit in this position with quite a large amount of tension for extended periods of time. Sometimes, people lower their voices, or lean back in their chairs, and so I lean further forward. One fairly shy woman sat with her head bent forward, but as the interview progressed, lowered her head closer and closer to the table. I of course followed suit, as did my interpreter. Intense conversations lead to intense experiences of fieldwork neck!
I first observed fieldwork neck in my interpreter, because I sit next to her in the interviews and can see her. Then I realised that I had been waking up each morning with a kind of tenderness at the base of my neck for the last couple of weeks. I’d put this down to using a different pillow to the one I’m used to, but now I think it is caused by my head position in interviews.
Of course, I am also spending a lot of time at my laptop, typing up notes, writing emails, and going through the photographs I’ve been taking. I do most of this kind of work sitting on my bed, late at night. So all in all, this has been tough going for my neck and spine, and given that tough treatment, it is probably holding up quite well, all things considered.
Despite the neck issues, this has been an incredibly fruitful trip. Today is my last day in Mostar. The majority of my interviews have been here, because the music centre that I am focusing on as a case study for my PhD is in this town. Tomorrow morning I’ll catch the train to Sarajevo, and meet with a few more people before flying back to Australia (via Istanbul and Singapore) on Friday night.