PARC Forum: Stephen R. Barley, Center for Work, Technology and Organization, Stanford School of Engineering at http://www.parc.com/event/1162/ethnography.html
View minutes 4:00-16:00 of this talk (end on the “ignorance of expertise”)
Summary of presentation by Stephen Barley, a Stanford professor who teaches courses on technology and work, the management of R&D, social network analysis, and ethnographic field methods and researches organizational culture in engineering.
In defining ethnography, both what it is and what it is not are needed to differentiate from other forms of qualitative research methods.
|Ethnography is||Ethnography is NOT|
|A type of research that is qualitative, but does not preclude quantification or statistical analysis||A synonym for qualitative research|
|Intensely and acutely empirical||Particularly subjective|
|Counting of incidents of indicators observed that are relevant to the setting and topic of study|
|Observing behaviors, speech acts, interactions between people filling roles, information from docs produced by informants for their own purposes|
|Using surveys with questions developed from understanding the setting||Using surveys based on others’ research|
|Utilizes quantitative data to substantiate claims about differences and distributions of behaviors or beliefs in the setting where ethnographer is studying.||Based on general theory|
|Testing hypotheses about phenomena emerge in the field work||Test testing hypotheses associated with an abstract theory|
There are two ways the term ethnography is used: refers to a document produced following observation, as in a book or paper, and refers to empirical techniques used to collect data. Those techniques include not only how the researcher collects the data but also the attitude of the ethnographer, the agenda, purpose, perspective of the research.
Ethnography documents situated patterns of action, capturing what people really do over a relatively long period of time through observations. It is a study of meaning systems, how members of some groups make sense of their world and their behavior. Informants allow an ethnographer to describe social world from the perspective of an insider and to develop grounded theories, based on observations of a set of behaviors. Observing how people use a technology or product in daily life can lead to development of other products that fit users’ worlds.
Techniques to collect data can be open ended interviewing, ethnosemantic interviewing (eliciting linguist codes in a hierarchy), using field notes, tape recordings, video, audio tapes, and archives. Gaining understanding of how insiders make sense of their world provides valuable information that overcomes the ignorance of expertise and authority that assumes an understanding in all aspects of a setting.
Ethnography is a way to build better empirical information about the everyday occurrences and organizational culture that is typically overlooked. Discovery of the obvious should allow better design of technologies.
Thought provoking questions
- Given the one year time frame for studies in industry presented by the speaker, how can an ethnographer establish unbiased research attitudes that can be sustained throughout the project?
- How could quantitative data of differences and distributions of behaviors or beliefs in your work setting over an extended period of time inform your own professional practice?
- Technology development of products based on ethnographic data in industry leads to products that better fit the user’s world. What are correlations of products that better fit the user’s world in the field of education?
- Compare intensely and acutely empirical data gathered from observing behaviors, speech acts, and interactions between people filling roles with empirical data collected from standardized English Language Arts assessments.
- In what components of your work might your expertise create an ignorance of what people are really doing everyday?