Post by Sarah Turnbull, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford

The end of August 2014 marked the conclusion of a year-long period of intense fieldwork across four immigration removal centres (IRCs) in the UK for the research project ‘Home and Away: Gender, Nation, Deportation.’ Over the course of the past year, I undertook a mixed-methods study of life in immigration detention, spending time in Campsfield House, Yarl’s Wood, Colnbrook, and Dover. Fieldwork involved administering surveys, conducting interviews and focus groups, and observing daily activities and routines. During this year, I had the privilege of meeting many amazing people who generously shared with me their stories and experiences of detention, as well as their hopes, fears, and dreams for the future.

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As I now transition ‘out’ of the field, I must start trying to make sense of the ‘data’ I’ve ‘collected’ this past year: the interview and focus group transcripts, the surveys, my fieldnotes. Approaching this material presents a number of challenges. For me, the ‘data’ are not just numbers and text; they are very much tied to the people who’ve shared bits of their lives with me. In reviewing transcripts of the interviews and focus groups, I’m brought back to the locations in which these conversations took place, to the sounds in the background, to the emotions raised. These data capture, however imperfectly, moments in time; yet time doesn’t stop nor do participants’ lives. Some are still in detention, a few are back in prison. Others have been released into the UK community, while some have gone ‘back,’ either ‘voluntarily’ or through force.

Part of my task now is to take a step back and decompress, even as this sometimes feels self-indulgent and underscores my privileged position as a researcher who can take time to process the fieldwork. Yet, transitioning ‘out of the field’ and ‘into the data’ necessitates this step so that the intensity of emotions can soften and an analytic frame of mind can emerge. Along with the privilege of being an academic comes the responsibility to attend to the information I’ve collected. Transitioning into the data means taking the time to give thoughtful consideration of, and reflection on, what can be learned from the past year of fieldwork.

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See also other recent From the Field mini-posts:


How to cite this blog post (Harvard style): Turnbull S (2014) From the Field: Transitioning ‘Out’ of Fieldwork and into the ‘Data’. Available at: (Accessed [date]).