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Using Ethnography in Policing Research Dr Donna Marie Brown University of Dundee.

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Presentation on theme: "Using Ethnography in Policing Research Dr Donna Marie Brown University of Dundee."— Presentation transcript:

1 Using Ethnography in Policing Research Dr Donna Marie Brown University of Dundee

2 Overview Introduction Defining ethnography and its key features Ethnographic methods Ethnographic stages Ethics and limitations Summary Questions and discussion

3 Introduction Research design: aims, objectives and questions Ontological and epistemological positions Background reading and preparation Research as process Personal interest in ethnography Increasing call for police ethnography

4 What is Ethnography? ‘Ethnography is the study of people in naturally occurring settings or fields by means of methods which capture their social meanings and ordinary activities, involving the researcher participating directly in the setting, if not also the activities, in order to collect data in a systematic manner, but without meaning being imposed on them externally’ (Brewer: 2000: 10)

5 Key Features of Ethnography (1) Hammersley and Atkinson (1992: 104): People’s behaviour is studied in everyday contexts rather than under unnatural or experimental circumstances created by the researcher; Data are collected by various techniques but primarily by means of observation; Data collection is flexible and unstructured to avoid pre-fixed arrangements that impose categories on what people say and do;

6 Key Features of Ethnography (2) The focus is normally on single setting or group and is small scale; The analysis of data involves attribution of the meanings of the human actions described and explained.

7 Researching ‘lived worlds’ ‘The basic purpose in using this approach is to understand parts of the world as they are experienced and understood in the everyday lives of people who actually ‘live them out’ (Cook and Crang, 2007: 4) Understandings the everyday, banal, mundane How individuals seek and create meaning through everyday interactions

8 Ethnographic Methods: Participant Observation Distinct way of seeing Balancing ‘insider’ ‘outsider’ status Cassell’s ‘ideal stance’ of an ‘intelligent, sympathetic and non-judgemental’ researcher (1988: 95) Psychology of perception Partial accounts in field diaries Researchers influence over behaviour

9 Participant Observation: Ethnographic Note Taking 1.Locating the setting 2.Describing the physical space 3.Describing others’ interactions with setting 4.Describing your participation in the field 5.Reflections in the research process 6.Self-reflections

10 Ethnographic Methods: Interviews ‘Conversations with a purpose’ (Burgess, 1984: 102) Producing ‘situated understandings’ grounded in specific interactional episodes: therefore interviews can yield rich insights into people’s experiences, aspirations, attitudes and feelings (Denzin and Lincoln, 2003: 48). Power relationships, rapport, preparation Combining methods and creating links

11 Policing Ethnographies Janet Chan et al’s Fair Cop (2003) - New South Wales, Australia Janet Forster’s Two Stations:An ethnographic Study of Policing in the inner city (1989) - London, UK Steve Herbert’s Policing Space (1997) - Los Angeles, USA Joan Wardrop’s Riding the Whole Soweto (1999) - Soweto, South Africa

12 Accessing the field Identifying case studies Gatekeeper, key informant, formal contact Informed consent and ethical approval

13 In the field: the ‘natural’ setting Prioritise social actors and their subjective orientation (Maanen, 1995) Immersion into host society - feel and even act as members of that ‘society’ (Walker, 1985) - long term ‘Indwelling’ - suspending one’s own ways of viewing the world (Maykurt and Morehouse, 1994)

14 In the field: Practical and methodological challenges Health and safety and research ethics Establishing credibility, co-operation and respect (Greenhill, 1981) In practice: process of negotiation and explanation (Row, 2007) Maintaining a critical position - critical distance despite engagement Providing research updates and allowing for member checks

15 Leaving the field Knowing when to leave - for you and the participants Maintaining relationships and keeping promises e.g. reports Producing rigorous, valid, transparent and ethical research findings Analysis, interpretation and presentation of results Consider the impacts of your research on institutions and individuals involved

16 Ethical dimensions/dilemmas (1) University and funding guidelines and panels Host of methodological books BUT ‘It is the nature of ethnographic research that the principles contained in methodological textbooks or professional codes of conduct will be stretched and perhaps distorted as they are applied to dynamic situations’ (Row, 2007)

17 Ethical dimensions/dilemmas (2) Behave with integrity and be just, benificent and respectful –Informed consent and honesty –Anonymity given where requested –Participant benefits Acknowledge the ongoing nature of research ethics throughout the entire research process Don’t be scared to ask for help or advice if you’re unsure

18 Limitations Subjective and idiosyncratic research - lack of generalisability? How can we fully understand the complexity of everyday life, the position of others etc? ‘The crisis of representation’: arbitrary or distorted understandings? Easy to do, but hard to do well Time consuming, isolating or even plain boring? Any other experiences of the limitations?

19 Summary Increasing call for ethnography in policing research Research methods and research design Ethnography and everyday structures, cultures, interactions and meanings Mixed-method research process with ongoing decisions Importance of research ethics Potential limitations need to be addressed to achieve best results - importance of the researcher

20 Questions or Comments?

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