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Social Research Methods Ethnography and Participant Observation.

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Presentation on theme: "Social Research Methods Ethnography and Participant Observation."— Presentation transcript:

1 Social Research Methods Ethnography and Participant Observation

2 Ethnography Detailed description of events + insights into their meaning A method of discovery - the obscure - small samples. Comparative method - official/unofficial, formal/informal Naturalistic stance - natural setting - empathy. Understand the symbolic world of the people studied

3 Key methods Interviews Documents Direct observation - become part of the setting = Participant observation

4 Entering the field Entry = the process of developing presence and relationships in the designated research setting that makes it possible for the researcher to collect data. Field = the natural, non-laboratory setting or location where the activities in which a researcher is interested take place. Building rapport Develop good personal relationships with people to get access and information

5 Participant observation = data collection technique that requires the researcher to be present at, involved in and recording the routine daily activities with people in the field setting. Identify the rules and meanings that govern relationships and actions in the setting. Not just observation, but often asking questions too (if possible)

6 Classic examples James Patrick - A Glasgow Gang Observed William Foote Whyte - Street Corner Society Laud Humphreys - Tearoom Trade Erving Goffman - Asylums

7 Covert vs. overt Covert - secret. Ethical problems - justifiable if no alternative (e.g. with elites) May limit ability to wander (should be working) May limit where you can go (workers not allowed in management canteen) Good for understanding what role means for participants No ethical issues if done in public arena, (football match, shopping, club). But may still need permission.

8 Overt - known Need to negotiate access Gatekeepers = those who control access to information, other individuals and settings. May also be a sponsor. Some gain entry just by “hanging about” (e.g. fiddling by market traders) Local gatekeepers are people who control access to resources or information researchers need.

9 Key informants Recognized special expertise in a topic of interest to the researcher cultural experts are people who have special cultural expertise. Gatekeeper often the first informant BUT, beware, key informants may not be typical people in the setting.

10 Front management Impression you make in the setting Need to get along and like people (to some extent) even if you don’t agree with them. The acceptable incompetent Going native -> too much empathy Balance view of the Martian and the convert. Dealing with factions - align with largest group or remain outside and neutral

11 Marginality Fear of non-acceptance Loneliness Worry over discovery of covert status Helps to work in a team Marginality is creative - generates insight.

12 Those observed may use exclusionary techniques Using a standard language unfamiliar to the researcher Code switching (changing from a language familiar to the researcher to one not understood) Changing the subject of a conversation when the ethnographer approaches Refusing to answer the question Positioning so that the ethnographer cannot hear what is being said Not inviting researchers to attend social events.

13 Reasons for this = Lack of trust Discomfort with outsider Inability to support stranger (e.g. cannot afford)

14 What to observe Settings Observe and track events and event sequences Counting, census-taking and ethnographic mapping (e.g. decisions, kin relationships) Searching for indicators of socio-economic difference

15 Data Collection Notes Still camera Audio & still camera Video Laptops Tracking users: - diaries - interaction logging

16 Settings Need to identify - talk to some participants or research partners (gatekeepers) Public or semi-public settings can be observed in unobtrusive way.

17 Events Involve more than one person Have History and consequence Are repeated Bounded in time and space. e.g. meetings, gatherings, celebrations, religious, political social and sporting events,

18 Classic questions are Space. What is the physical space like? Actors. Who is involved? Activities. What are they doing? Objects. What objects are present? Acts. What are individuals doing? Events. What kind of event is it? Goals. What do they want to accomplish? Feelings. What is the mood of the group and of individuals?

19 Counting, census-taking etc. Cross-sectional or longitudinal E.g. number, ages, mixture of cultures, ethnicity etc. E.g. how many at the club, ages, sex, style of dress, how many in group, when they arrived? Census = details of each household Do this in ethnography or community study Basic form for each. Maps of community. Use maps to show where people are

20 Charts - e.g. hierarchy, organization, decision, event flow, taxonomy.

21 Organisation chart

22 Look for social differences Clothing Hair style Type and amount of jewellery Leisure time activities Speech and language patterns Television programme preferences Choice of car Where home is Decoration of home Each of these my have many subtypes or categories. e.g. shoes - trainers, make, style trousers - jeans, make, colour, style,

23 Interpretative Data Analysis  Look for key events that drive the group’s activity.  Look for patterns of behaviour.  Test data sources against each other - triangulate.  Report findings in honest way.  Produce ‘rich’ or ‘thick descriptions’.  Include quotes, pictures, and anecdotes

24 Typologies Those used by informants e.g. Giallombardo study of women’s prison. Prisoners describe inmates as: snitchers, inmate cops and lieutenants, squares, jive bitches, rap buddies, homeys, connects, boosters, inners, penitentiary turnouts, lesbians, femmes, stud broads, tricks, commissary hustlers, chippies, kick partners, cherries, punks, and turnabouts. An “emic” account

25 Those used by analyst e.g. Lofland study of waiting behaviour: The sweet young thing The nester The investigator Seasoned urbanites The Maverick An “etic” account

26 Fieldnotes No point in observation if you don’t record Develop powers of observation, Practice mental notes -

27 Fieldnotes 2 Describe behaviourally - try to avoid interpreting meaning of action (leave this for analysis stage). Describe actions as neutrally as possible until you have seen behaviour in all other settings. Descriptions of individual should include clothing, carriage, items carried, status of items. Don’t just say ‘elegantly dressed’ because that does not tell us what this means in that setting. Describe physical state of environment. Not just bright and warm, but say what colours used, what was on walls, what furniture there was, what kind, new or old, colour and upholstery etc.

28 Fieldnotes 3 Jotted notes. Need to write up as full fieldnotes Include key phrases, words or quotations. Jot at inconspicuous moments - the weak bladder technique.

29 Keep data and interpretation separate Inferences and personal observations, reflections, hunches and emotional reactions of the field researcher can be recorded separately from the stream of fieldnotes that describes the event or situation. E.g. split page into two columns - wide one for notes, narrower one for comments.

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31 Fieldnotes good practice Record what is said, with selected, key quotations. Write up as soon after event as possible Use pseudonyms Notes describe actions in actual sequence Include relevant history (do this when writing up) Record, time, date and location, name of researcher (if in team) and pseudonyms of those present.


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