Guest post by Luigi Gariglio, Lecturer in Visual Studies and Sociology of Communication at the University of Turin, and Academic Visitor at the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford. In this post, Luigi responds to last week’s From the Field entry by Sarah Turnbull on transitioning from fieldwork to academic analysis and writing.

Dear Sarah: I’m happy you’re at this stage. But how can you transition ‘out’ from the field? Or do you just mean physically, with your body? I’m sure your life has been changed forever by these amazing experiences, and at least part of your empathic and emotionally charged experiences will be floating around the world with the migrants you were privileged to meet and who were privileged to meet you as well. I’m sure that your sensibilities will help you to decipher and translate into a complex text (with images too, I hope) what is already, at least to a certain extent, your embodied understanding in progress at this stage. I remember some of the emotions that were simply so evident and pouring out from you when you were coming back from the field at the Centre for Criminology or when you were going ‘out there;’ it was simply impossible even to have a small chat with you… you were still in the field, or already there.

The first image used in the photo-elicitation interview with both staff and prisoners. A photo of signs indicating the prison and the special hospital (housed in the same building), taken just a few steps away from the main entrance. (Image: Luigi Gariglio © 2014)
I’m not quite sure that you can go out from the field into the data. In my last fieldwork experience, which I’ve been involved with over the last year and a half in an Italian ‘special hospital’―a prison with psychiatrists and medical personnel―located in the northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia, I’ve had some difficulty in simply grasping raw data without theory, methods, or even ideas in mind. In the beginning stage of my research, I’ve been progressively focusing, in different steps, on what I think I’m doing at the moment, which is an ethnography of the use of force. There was simply too much to see, to smell, to select, and to try to make sense of in the field. I was often worried about getting lost. I’ve been obliged to choose, to leave out, to put aside, and I didn’t want to do it casually. Perhaps that’s my (masculine?) need of certainty, a grasp of reality (or need of), and desire for a precise direction. Maybe that’s my problem. But I started to try to follow my data and my understanding of it through theory and practice, though in an uneasy and shifting way, from the beginning.
A screenshot from the video recording of a photo-elicitation interview with a prison officer. (Image: Luigi Gariglio © 2014)
The last image used in the photo-elicitation interview with both staff and prisoners. A photo of pictures of inmates that died in custody, about 30% of whom committed suicide. The photo is displayed in the chapel. A prison officer showed it to me. (Note: The image was doctored for privacy purposes; during the photo-elicitation the undoctored image is used.) (Image: Luigi Gariglio © 2014)

Photo-elicitation with key images I produced in the second part of this ethnography has been a crucial tool to help me to find my way ‘out.’ Some of the more important (and contested) images, include, among others, a psychiatric constraint bed, a seclusion cell, a portrait of a just assaulted prison officer with ice blocks on his face, and a infirmary with a psychiatrist, a patients and eight prison officers. These images, along with others and all the ethnographic informal interviews after crucial critical events, helped to guide my gaze and my body in the field. I’m not quite sure whether I captured the reality or whether I’m naively trying to build some certainty that will help me to think I’ll reach the end, but I’m quite aware that the field, theory, methods, and bodies and spaces in the field, all meet in one way or another from the very beginning of the research… This is only my partial little story; a story of a sociologist trying to look for a partial little comprehension of a very complex, multifaceted, and almost ungraspable reality. ‒Luigi

A screenshot (doctored for privacy purposes) from the video recording of a photo-elicitation interview with a prison officer. (Image: Luigi Gariglio © 2014)

Border Criminologies will soon be launching an online forum for researchers to discuss issues such as these and many others. Check back and/or follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on this exciting initiative!

See also other recent From the Field mini-posts:


How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Gariglio L (2014) From the Field: Back and Forth in a Special Hospital. Available at: (Accessed [date]).