Bailey, C. A. (2007). A Guide to Qualitative Field Research 2nd Edition
Baily (2007) starts in the preface by stating that it is hard to prepare students for all circumstances that they will encounter while doing fieldwork, and that success sometimes depends on timing or luck. She also states that there are innate characteristics such as “good social skills, an ability to cope with ambiguity, patience, and flexibility” (Bailey, 2007, p. xii) that you can’t learn by reading a book. She continues that the best way to learn fieldwork is to do it.
In order to conduct fieldwork the researcher needs to have a good understanding of the different methods and techniques that are available. Researchers need to have the flexibility to switch methods midstream depending on the circumstances that come up. Also, field research is nonlinear, and researchers need to be able to fluidly move between the different “stages” at any time.
Survey research investigates a limited number of predefined variables. Alternately, fieldwork takes a more holistic view of the circumstances, interactions, and history of the subjects. Change over time also plays an important part of field research. Baily (2007) equates survey research to a photograph, and fieldwork to a movie, stating “life is, metaphorically, better captured by a movie than by a photograph” (Bailey, 2007, p. 3).
“Field researchers usually begin their study with an overarching question” (Bailey, 2007, p. 4). Once the research has started this overarching question is usually refined and additional research questions can be added. These refinements lead to more focused investigation.
Data is collected by the direct interactions and observations of the researcher, interviews (unstructured, semi-structured, and structured), and surveys. With the exception of surveys, the data is stored as filed notes, and is a collection of words, sentences, and phrases, and notes about specific observations. Interviews are typically recorded and transcribed. In order to analyze their data; researcher apply codes that allow them to group and organize data that is useful in addressing the research question. They usually report the findings of their data in a narrative format.
The researcher is a critical part of the research. The unique characteristics of the researcher will determine the depth of responses from subjects, judgments on what is important enough to be recorded in filed notes, personal history, and values. Reflexivity is the practice of the researcher looking at him/her self and evaluating how these characteristics could have affected the research. Depending on the paradigm used results from this evaluation are sometimes included in the final report. The positivist paradigm is committed to objectivism; whereas, the interpretive paradigm holds “social reality is not independent of the social meaning” (Bailey, 2007, p. 7). Those using the positivist paradigm are less likely to include reflexivity in their report.
- Do you have the characteristics that are needed for fieldwork?
- Do you subscribe to the positivist or interpretive paradigm? Why?
- If you were doing fieldwork; what tools would you use to record field notes?
- What are some unanticipated circumstances that would require the researcher to change methods?