When asked how he processed his fieldwork experiences and data, Claude Lévi-Strauss replied that he always took a lot of notes and collected file cards, “a bit of everything, fleeting ideas, summaries of readings, references, quotes.” If he wanted to understand something, he took a stack of cards from the box and laid them out like a game of Solitaire. The random combinations helped him reconstruct his memory and always gave him a new angle on the matter. At first glance, it might appear astonishing to produce knowledge by means of random combinations. But, taking a closer look into the processes of knowledge production, it is not that astounding at all. Tools to collect data, and the ways materials are categorized to produce meaning, are often based on experiments rather than on purely systematic practices.
Kathrin Wildner is an urban ethnologist and teaches at the HafenCity Universität Hamburg and the Kunsthochschule Weißensee Berlin. She did her fieldwork in New York, Mexico City, and Istanbul. Her research focuses on public space, transnational urbanism, and qualitative methods of urban research. Kathrin Wildner is a founding member of metro-Zones—Center for Urban Affairs, works in transdisciplinary projects, and publishes widely on current questions of urban research, e.g. in the anthologies Caracas, sozialisierende Stadt (2013), Stadtforschung aus Lateinamerika (2013), and Transnational Urbanism (2012), recently edited by her.