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Ethnography and participant observation 4 th February 2008 Marta Trzebiatowska.

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Presentation on theme: "Ethnography and participant observation 4 th February 2008 Marta Trzebiatowska."— Presentation transcript:

1 Ethnography and participant observation 4 th February 2008 Marta Trzebiatowska

2 Lecture outline What is ethnography? Gaining access to the research site Overt/covert research Doing fieldwork: the researcher s roles Sampling How to take fieldnotes and what to do with them Leaving the research setting Bryman (2004), Ch 14

3 Definitions Ethnography – an umbrella term for a family of qualitative research methods Often used interchangeably with participant observation The ethnographer immerses herself in a chosen setting for a prolonged period of time Watching, participating, asking questions Ethnography is both the method and the outcome F.ex. An ethnography of a primary school/convent/nightclub etc.

4 Ethnography and fieldwork: getting out there 1. Developing a research problem (what will you study and why?) 2. Choosing a setting (where?) 3. Participants (who?) 4. Access (how?) 5. Fieldwork: observation, field notes interviews, and focus groups (what?)

5 Access Why it may be hard to get in: Personal attributes (age, gender, skin colour, nationality, class, sexual orientation) Research topic First impression Covert, overt, or semi-overt research?

6 Access (cont.) Adjusting to the field Power relations Fairy Godmother (O Reilly) – is it always a blessing? The power of neutral information Learning from own mistakes and trying again Official/unofficial route Time Learning the language N.B. The process of gaining access never stops

7 Gaining access: an example Whyte (1955) Street Corner Society A study of young men in Cornerville A public setting/difficulties getting in Whyte befriended Doc, who turned into his key informant and gatekeeper

8 Covert/overt research Most ethnography nowadays is semi- overt Covert – the ethnographer does not reveal their true identity Overt – the participants are aware of the researcher s motives and they grant their consent for the data to be used

9 Covert research: an example Humphreys, L. (1970) Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places. Chicago: Aldine Participant observation in public toilets Humphreys was a watch queen Obtained the men s personal details and subsequently interviewed them

10 Doing fieldwork: the researcher s roles Feeling strange and insecure I was afraid of everything at the beginning. It was just fear of imposing on people, of trying to maintain a completely different role than anyone else around you. […] Am I going to be rejected? Am I really getting the data I need? (Wintrob (1969) cited in Hammersley and Atkinson, 1995: 114) Different roles (Gold, 1958) Complete participant (covert) Participant as observer (overt) Observer as participant (overt) Complete observer (overt) This distinction is not always useful – you are never simply an observer

11 Going native When the ethnographer becomes a member of the studied group/ loses the sense of being a researcher May be dangerous but it happens Religious conversion, romantic involvement with a research participant, taking on the views of the group studied

12 Hunter Thompson (1967) Hell s Angels By the middle of summer (1965) I became so involved in the outlaw scene that I was no longer sure whether I was doing research on the Hell s Angels or being slowly absorbed by them. I found myself spending two or three days each week in Angel bars, in their homes, and on runs and parties. In the beginning I kept them out of my own world, but after several months my friends grew accustomed to finding Hell s Angels in my apartment at any hour of the day or night. Their arrivals and departures caused periodic alarm in the neighbourhood and sometimes drew crowds. (Thompson, 1967: 283)

13 Research bargains Fieldwork = constant interaction Impossible to sail through without any problems Fronts – what you say, how you dress etc. Mistakes and close calls are part of the process and your data – use them to learn and enhance your research experience Humility is the key

14 Examples of uncomfortable research Fielding, N. (1981) The National Front An ethnography: Fielding befriended several activists, conducted participant observation and analysed the ideology of the movement Patrick, J. (1973) A Glasgow Gang Observed. London: Eyre Methuen Patrick joined a gang but left when the level of violence escalated

15 Ethnographic fieldnotes When? What? How? When? ASAP, best during an observation but not always possible How? Rushed and fragmented, key words, pictures and drawings, even elaborate notes need refining CONSISTENCY! If in doubt, write it down

16 Ethnographic fieldnotes (cont.) What? Impossible to record everything Sophistication comes with time Detailed can be good Especially if we are dealing with conversations and emotional situations

17 Types of fieldnotes Jottings – brief phrases to be developed Description – everything you recall about the occasion (time, place, people, surroundings, animals, smells, sounds etc.) Analysis – what have you learned so far? Reflection – what was it like for you?

18 Sampling Whatever is available or Convenience and snowball sampling Or Theoretical sampling – gathering data in accordance with the emerging theory From a general research question to a hypothesis

19 When does the ethnographer stop? Data saturation OR the field disintegrates Can be difficult because: a) Your participants do not wish you to leave b) You find it hard to leave the setting You may feel relieved, Or sad, Or guilty… Oritz, S. (2004) Leaving the Private World of Wives of Professional Athletes, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 33(4) Hunter Thompson (1965) Hells Angels

20 Aftermath Keeping in touch: a moral obligation? Feeding the data back to the participants Follow-up research

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