Ch. 4 – Ethnographic Observation
Ethnography is a process by which a researcher inserts himself or herself into the everyday lives of those whose beliefs and behaviors are to be studied.
In deciding what to study, you are using formative theory. Formative Theory – the explanatory framework that guides one in the initial approach to a new setting. It may be modified as the research progresses, but it is a useful way to begin sorting through the mass of observed detail. The exampled used in the book is as follows: If you think that modern American culture is defined by its enthusiasm for pop culture, then you would probably not select an Amish farming village as the site for your study. Once you have narrowed your observational focus by means of formative theory, you can begin the actual process of observation.
Observation – first key technique – it may be assumed that this type of fieldwork is easy, however, determining What should be observed and How to conduct useful observations are key in the use and value of this technique. In order to properly observe, we must use all senses, not just sight.
Things to remember when conducting observations:
- Do not rely on memory
- Assume that what you are observing is exotic; document everything
- For each situation, answer the following: Who, What, Where, When
- Whenever possible, supplement with visual aids (photos, sketches)
- Try to keep your field notes free of interpretation. Record your interpretations in your journal.
- Try to record EXACT quotes
- Use pseudonyms or codes to identify participants while conducting the field.
- Follow sequence of events
- Great care in dating and categorizing each notation
Ch. 5 – Types of Observation
Unobtrusive Observation – those made with a minimum of research participation. Examples use in text: Researchers stationed themselves in some busy public place (hospital emergency room) and took notes on behaviors of interest without interacting with anyone. Unobtrusive Observation is often structured observation – a very precise format for recording data which allows for comparable data. Other researchers can use the same exact practices for observing and recording data and compile the data for interpretation.
Participant Observation – This is a more typical type of observation. In these cases, the researcher is already someone familiar to the people in the study group. The researcher’s purposes are generally known and the researcher is not simply sitting in a corner taking notes. This method leads to tricky situations since taking notes in the midst of an activity is not possible. The researcher would have to rely on memory. Participant Observation is usually unstructured observation since the researchers is immersed in the flow of events as they are unfolding. Each piece of unstructured observation will be unique.