Angrosino, M. V. (2005). Projects in Ethnographic Research. Waveland Press.
Ethnography research involves observation. Ethnographers insert themselves into the everyday lives of those who are being studied. Formative theory guides researchers in deciding what to study. Angrosino (2005) defines formative theory as “nothing more than the explanatory framework that guides one in the initial approach to a new setting” (p. 34). Modifications may be made as the research progresses. Once the researcher narrows their observational focus by means of formative theory, they are able to begin the actual process of observation. Observation becomes data once it is recorded in a retrievable method. Ethnographers usually do not rely on memory. Although the setting may be familiar to the observer, observations should be recorded in a way that is presumed to be foreign. Documentation of everything during the initial stages of observation is suggested. Observation notes should include who, what, where, and when. Answering the why may take place as the researcher gains familiarity.
Field note recommendations:
- Supplement field notes with visual aids.
- Field notes should be kept free from interpretation (see table below).
- Identify participants using pseudonyms in the field note and follow the sequence of events.
- Date and categorize information.
Keep Field Notes Free From Interpretation
|“The people were carried away with religious fervor at the church service.”||“People were singing, shouting, and dancing during the church service.”|
|“The hospital room was cheerful.”||“The hospital room was painted yellow and was decorated with flowers and balloons.”|
|“The students were frustrated with the teacher’s explanation.”||“The students were fidgeting and kept glancing at one another.”|
Record personal interpretations in a journal (not in the field notes).
Types of observations include unobtrusive, structured, and unstructured observations. Unobtrusive observation takes place when there is minimal researcher participation and is often structured. Participant observation is usually unstructured. Relying on memory is required for participant observation. Documentation of the observation takes place after the observation is complete.
Ethnographic research consists of interviewing techniques that are different from the more familiar ways of conducting an interview. Angrosino (2005) states that exploratory interviews “probe issues of concern that the researcher believes to be important to the study but about which little is known” (p. 44). These types of interviews involved in-depth and open-ended interviewing techniques. Life history and oral history are two forms of exploratory ethnographic interviews. This type of interview may seem unstructured. It requires patience, persistence, attentiveness, logical thinking, and exceptional communication skills.
There are times when exploratory interviews produce insight that requires a focused interview called a semi-structured interview. Semi-structured interviews consist of predetermined questions related to a specific topic. Question ordering is not a concern in exploratory interviews. It is recommended that the researcher follow a continuous question sequence in a semi-structured interview.
Possible Discussion Questions:
- How does useful observation take place?
- List an example of an exploratory interview that may need a semi-structured interview component. Why would it be important to include the semi-structured interview in the example you provided?
- Why might the author suggest asking questions beginning with the most concrete and working up to the most abstract in a semi-structured interview?
- How might you avoid/decrease cultural nuances of questions during an interview?