I am in the midst of new stimuli. Last week, my wife and I moved from from Chico, California, USA, to a new job in Chiangmai, Thailand. I had my first class on Sunday in Business Statistics, and I had some vague idea of writing up the experience for ethnography.com. But I’m at a loss of where to start. My observations are a blur—meaning that in ethnographic terms, there is not yet a frame. And a lack of such “frame,” and the creation of the frame, is perhaps what such big changes are about.
Frames of course are comfortable. They provide predictability, a way to talk about experiences, and at least the illusion of control. But it seems that when you move like we did and start a new experience, you lose the comfort of predictability. This is exciting, and perhaps a bit scary. It is what we did, it is what refugees do, and it is what freshmen moving away to college experience. I like to also think that it is invigorating, though at extremes it can be disorienting as well.
Erving Goffman of course wrote a whole book, Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Ordering of Experience, about the nature of “framing.” And this book’s title of course helps explain why I am writing about framing, and not my first day of class here in Thailand as I originally intended. Being in a blur means that there is still no “ordering of experience,” even though I tried to make the class as orderly as possible. But really, ordering only comes with time, as you adjust to the new social environment, and respond to what is generally known as “experience.”
Order is comforting, but maybe not so exhilarating. I am still waiting for there to come some order—frame—to my experience teaching Business Statistics in Thailand.
For now, it is too far out of my past experience to either order it into a coherent blog, or any semblance of social science. And perhaps that is the point of this blog. Order and framing is the prerequisite for ethnography, aren’t hey? If this is the case, it must indeed be difficult to describe the blur of a sudden change in social location. Which is perhaps why ethnographers take so long to come up with “the story” that will fit into even a few hundred words.