An Ethnographic Inventory

Writing inventions: A how to guide to approach the description of ‘field devices’

The different inventions we aim to inventory in xcol call for particular writing genres beyond established ones. Writing them can, indeed, be a complicated task. This is why we have thought of putting together a series of guides that might be helping in this task.

Here, we try to provide you with a how to guide to approach your writing. But rather than as models that have to be imitated, we’re sharing them for inspiration.

This how to guide addresses the description of ‘field devices‘ as peculiar writing pieces.

We imagine something that might be having the following structure (if searching for more concrete inspiration, please check How to ‘device’ an ethnographic infrastructure):

Title and, if necessary, a subtitle

Perhaps the most important thing you need to achieve here is to identify in the title the field device. The subtitle could then be used to situate how this field device enables particular modes of inquiry. Here you can see some examples: ‘How to curate ethnographic inquires’, ‘How to exhibit the field’, ‘How to write fieldpoetry’, ‘How to interpret the field with a script’. The usage of the ‘how to’ formula is optional.


Or, more appropriately: a distillation, not a summary of the piece but a synthesis of the field device and the correlated mode of inquiry you are proposing.

File card

Containing basic information on your ethnographic project. There are two principal categories: field device and mode of inquiry. We would like you to make an effort in specifying both.

You can also add some other secondary categories allowing a further characterisation of your fieldwork (as in a hiking guide).

Descriptions and learnings

Rather than an ethnographic account—or a vignette—the genre of the ‘invention’ we envision is an ethnographic description of the material and social workings of your fieldwork device—the one giving title to your piece—and the mode of inquiry it enables. We think it would be important to pay attention to two different dimensions implicated in its ‘how to’:

(i) the ‘how to’ refers to the particular situation of your project: economic resources, social context, material conditions, etc.

(ii) but the ‘how to’ also refers the particular ethnographic mode of inquiry that characterises your project: plunging in collaborative endeavours; attentive to the sensory aspects of our world; paying attention to multi-species relations, etc.


References to where you drew your inspiration or where more examples of the kind can be found. Only the essentials, we would like to limit the number of references as much as possible.

How to (optional)

This section offers a recipe-like guide, a set of instructions or ‘tips’ that summarise or synthesise the particular fieldwork device and the mode of inquiry it opens up. In thinking about ‘recipes’ or ‘instructions’ we don’t see them as a form of ‘prescriptive’ knowledge but a source of inspiration. It is a culinary crime against traditional Spanish Paella to put ‘chorizo’ in the dish, but if you like it, why not? This is the spirit we envision for the ‘how to’ section.

The guiding question when approaching this might be: How can others learn from your project or draw inspiration for their own endeavours?