1 Researching Deviant/Criminal Groups Qualitative Research 1.General Comments 2.Participant Observation 3.Ethics: Laud Humphreys 4.Pros/Cons of PO
2 1. Qual. Research Different methods: fieldwork, PO, unstructured interviews, text analysis, oral history, etc. Qualitative approach argues: Humans not mice or atoms Actions have meanings, purposes; different interpretations Study in context/natural setting More detailed knowledge of research groups
3 1. Qual Research Early exponents: Anthropology: e.g. Malinowski (1920s) - months in the field Sociology: Chicago School (1920s +) - study diverse groups in setting e.g. tramps, dancers – deviants especially
4 2. Participant Observation Join group, participate in activities Step back: observe, record, analyse PO with deviant or criminal groups that have limited power Powerful prevent entry Early work challenged myths about poor eg Whyte - 1930s Boston slum
5 2. PO - Getting In Are you an insider? e.g. Becker, jazz and marijuana Polsky and pool hustlers Can you find research group (the mafia?) Constantly (re)negotiate entry - Armstrong (1993) and football hooligans Access gatekeepers Snowball research group (Polsky)
6 2. PO - Blending In Blend in, build rapport, win trust Similar background & habits help e.g. Hobbs - criminals and drinking Polsky: keep quiet early on, avoid dumb questions
7 2. Doing PO Research criminal group? Dont pretend to join Draw lines re personal involvement (Polsky) Record info: avoid tapes. Take notes next day, or during breaks Watch for quid pro quo - help out research group
8 2. PO Dangers? - Going Native Take on research groups culture, forget sociological viewpoint e.g. fights, disorderly behaviour in pubs (e.g. Parker 1974) Criticisms by other, armchair academics BUT: hard to go native if not original member
9 3. Research Ethics Most research can be overt - in the open BSA - ethical guidelines Seek informed consent - group understands, accepts your project Covert research - spy on group - might be practical - can it be justified?
10 3. Laud Humphreys - Tearoom Trade LH - watch-queen role (lookout/voyeur) Covert: open researcher wouldnt win trust Noted car reg of participants; got names and addresses Year later - disguised (not recognised), interviewed around 100 participants Homosexual male encounters in public toilets (tearooms)
11 3. LH - Ethical Problems? LH praised - new light on unusual activity HAD to be covert? Criticisms: no informed consent deceived participants probably impossible today
12 4. Wider Criticisms of PO 1. Sample groups too small for generalizations e.g. one criminal gang, not variety 2. Lot of crime/deviance stays hidden or cant be reported 3. Too subjective - researchers own interpretation 4. Underplays structural issues? e.g. class 5. Researcher influences behaviour
13 4. Benefits of PO Richness, complexity of social life Tells us more about little-known groups Deviant meanings and identities – how intense, rationalized, relate to normal? Detailed findings CAN build in structural issues e.g. Birmingham School on youth, class and subcultures Enjoyable / memorable research experience - but dont try to go native
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