Bailey’s Guide to Qualitative Field Research, Chapters 2-4 [Andrew]

Chapter 2, Ethical Issues in Qualitative Field Research

Example:  Laud Humphreys (1970)

–       Informed Consent

  • “Basic ethical tenet of scientific research on human populations.  Sociologists do not involve a human being as a subject in research without the informed consent of the subject or the subject’s legally authorized representative…” (American Sociological Association, 1999, p. 12).
  • To obtain consent, research must make potential participants aware of these 11 things, making sure to use language that is understandable:

ü  that they are participating in research

ü  the purpose of the research

ü  the procedures used during the research

ü  the risks and benefits of the research

ü  the voluntary nature of the research participation

ü  their right to stop the research at any time

ü  the procedures used to protect confidentiality

ü  their right to have all their questions answered at any time

ü  other information relevant to the participants

ü  what is required of them if they consent to participate

ü  that refusal to participate or withdraw at any time will lead to no foreseeable consequences (American Sociological Association, 1999, p. 13).

  • However, not quite so cut and dry, either.  The researcher does not have to obtain informed consent if the “research involves no more than minimal risk for research participants” and “the research could not practically be carried out were informed consent to be required” (American Sociological Association, 1999, p. 12).

–       Deception

  • Deception results when people are not told they are participating in a study, are misled about the purpose or details of the research, or are not aware of the correct identity or status of the researcher.
  • Different thoughts about deceptions.  Gans (1962) expressed this view when he wrote, “If the researcher is completely honest with people about his activities, they will try to hide actions and attitudes they consider undesirable, and so will be dishonest. Consequently, the researcher must be dishonest to get honest data” (p. 42).
  • Covert research, which is conducted without those in the setting being aware of the researcher’s dual roles—participant and researcher. If the members in the setting are aware of the dual roles, the research is classified as overt research.
  • The ASA says (about deception), “[S]ociologists do not use deceptive techniques”…“Sociologists never deceive research participants about significant aspects of the research that would affect their willingness to participate, such as physical risks, discomfort, or unpleasant emotional experiences”.  However, deception can be considered ethical if
    • (a) the deception will not harm the participants,
    • (b) the deception is justified by the study’s value,
    • (c) alternative procedures are not possible, and
    • (d) the research has the approval of an Institutional Review Board..
  • If these conditions are met and deception deemed a needed feature of the research design, the code requires that sociologists, “attempt to correct any misconceptions that research participants may have no later than at the conclusion of the research” (American Sociological Association, 1999, p. 14).

–       Confidentiality

  • Research is anonymous when the researcher is not able to identify the participants in the study.
  • Maintaining confidentiality becomes particularly problematic when authorities think the researcher has knowledge that a law has been violated.
  • The code states that you should either (a) not do the research or (b) indicate clearly on the informed consent and discuss thoroughly with participants that if faced with legal threat, you will break confidentiality.

–       Institutional Review Board (review)

Discussion Questions, Chapter 2:

1)    After the entirety of the chapter, could the argument be made that the Laud Humphrey field research was ethical?  Why or why not?

2)    Review the scenario on pages 26 and 27 regarding Van Maanen.  Should Van Maanen have reported the incident or not?  Explain your response, citing the ASA code. 

3)    Regarding one of the projects/dissertation ideas you have in this EDD program, answer the following questions:

  1. a.     Is informed consent required?
  2. b.     If so, who in the setting with receive the informed consent?
  3. c.     What will be included in the informed consent?
  4. d.     Will the research be covert and include the deception to prevent reactivity?
  5. e.     How will the confidentiality of the participants in the setting be protected?


Chapter 3, Prelude to Qualitative Fieldwork

Selection Process:

–       Ethical Issues

  • Questions to ask include if the research can be done without deception, how difficult it might be to maintain confidentiality, what the chances are of getting dirty hands—participating in illegal behavior or behavior against ones own moral standards, what are the chances or someone else getting hurt, and what are the chances of yourself getting hurt?

–       Practicality

  • Time
  • Interpersonal skills

–       Accessibility

  • Range from open to close and fall anywhere in between.
  • If restricted, is there a better setting choice where you already have more access?

–       Familiar versus Unfamiliar

  • Debate continues with whether a familiar or unfamiliar setting is most advantageous.
  • Author encourages researchers to go outside of their own comfort zone.

–       Record Keeping

  • Dependability audit—reviewing records of everything done during the research—is one of the things used to assess the quality of your research.
  • In addition to keeping records of your activities during every stage of the research, you should periodically review your notes to help you plan what to do next.

–       Goals and Research Questions

  • Goals or questions need to be articulated early enough.

–       Review of Literature

  • Aside from what one might already know, make sure to immerse yourself in the relevant literature in preparation for the suitable setting.

–       Final Preparations

  • Be prepared!
  • Be ready with pen/paper, or MULTIPLE recorders/batteries
  • Murphy’s Law appears in the field often…


Discussion Questions, Chapter 3:

4)    How might you use this chapter’s suggestions to best prepare for your own dissertation/field work research?  Specifically, if you only took ONE best piece of advice, what would it be and why?

5)    What are your views on the benefits and costs of physically taking notes (not using a recorder)?  Try to explain using your experience from a previous/current class.


Chapter 4, The Infrastructure of Qualitative Field Research

The field researcher does not proceed through steps one after the other, but instead works on several parts simultaneously.

–       (1) Paradigms

  • A paradigm is “a basic set of beliefs that guide action” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003, p. 245).
  • All paradigms that guide field research have four major, interrelated beliefs about ontology, epistemology, methodology, and axiology.
    • Ontology:  Is there a “Truth” that can be known?
    • Epistemology:  Is what is learned independent of the researcher?
    • Methodology:  How should the research go about finding out about social reality?
    • Axiology:  What is the role of values in the research process?
  • Positivist Paradigm
    • Begins with a theory; on the basis of the results of the data analysis, the researcher decides whether there is empirical support for the hypothesis.
      • Objective reality exists (ontology)
      • What can be learned about the social world exists independently of the researcher (epistemology)
      • Reliability, validity, and generalizability (methodology)
      • Objective and value-free (axiology)
  • Interpretive Paradigm
    • The social world is not an entity in and of itself but is local, temporally and historically situated, fluid, context-specific, and shaped in conjunction with the researcher (Guba & Lincoln, 1994, p.109).
      • No objective social reality but instead multiple realities (ontology)
      • What is learned in research does not exist independently of the researcher (epistemology)
      • Interactions with and observations of participants in the setting (methodology)
      • Rejects the view that value neutrality is essential to the research process (axiology)
  • Critical Paradigm
    • Seeks to empower the people in a setting and to work toward meaningful social change (Neuman, 1991, p. 81).
      • There is no single “reality out there” (ontology)
      • Researcher is not independent from what is researched and that the findings of research are mediated through his or her values (epistemology)
      • Often takes a macro approach to research (methodology)
      • values are important to the research and should be clearly articulated in the work and to the participants (axiology)

–       (2) Theory

  • Theories are important for selecting a topic, creating goals, developing research questions, and collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data.  These develop over time and are chosen in different ways.

–       (3) Tradition of inquiry

  • “Participant observation” and “ethnography” are two common names for field research. Different types of ethnographies include ethnographic case study, critical ethnography, and the more controversial autoethnography (Morse & Richards, 2002).
  • There are many strategies of inquiry for qualitative researchers (case studies, biographies, grounded theory, clinical research, phenomenological research, evaluation research, participatory action research, ethnographies, and scholar activist approaches (Kershaw, 2005).

Handled in future chapters:

–       (4) Methodology

–       (5) Methods

–       (6) Data analysis

–       (7) Final manuscript


Discussion Questions, Chapter 4:

6)    Is it possible to include value judgments in the research process and still conduct unbiased research? Explain your response, possibly using a personal example from your previous/current classes. 

7)    Review the ontological, epistemological, axiological, and methodological assumptions of positivist, interpretive, and/or critical paradigms. Which of these is most consistent with your own beliefs? Explain why.

8)    Aside from your own beliefs, which one yields the most accurate information, in your opinion, and why?

Bailey’s Guide to Qualitative Field Research, Chapter 1 [Anna]


EDL 207: Seminar Moderator

Bailey, C. A. (2007). A Guide to Qualitative Field Research

2nd Edition, Pine Forge Press. [K-12 & Higher Ed]   Intro, Chapter 1.

Chapter 1: Introduction to Qualitative Field Research

 History of Field Research

No definitive study has been completed to identify the origins of inquiry through field research. There is currently much debate and disagreement about when it was first completed. Some scholars suggest that field research first appeared in the 18th century. While others argue that field research existed long before it emerged in academics.

What is field research?

Field research is, “The systematic study, primarily through long-term, face-to-face interactions and observations, of everyday life.” The goal of field research is to understand daily life from the perspectives of individuals in a specific setting or social group. A naturalistic setting is used to complete field research since it provides a more holistic picture of people and their lives. Through field researcher participants in the study continue with their daily routines during research. This “in the field” research is also called naturalistic inquiry.

While completing this type of research, researchers study the order of events and changes that take place over time and commonly focus their research on status characteristics. However, instead of controlling the events in the study, the researcher tries to become part of the setting in which the study is occurring. The immersion of the researcher into their study is done to provide in-depth descriptions and analytical understanding of the participants in their “natural setting.”

What is the purpose of field research?

The primary reason for field research is for the researcher to answer their overarching question, issue, or problem that leads to more specific research questions. During field research, researchers sometimes change their research questions throughout their study. It is also common for researchers to add, refine, or delete research questions while they are conducting field research.

What type of data is collected?

The types of data collected vary on the purposes of the specific study and the research questions in place. However, the majority of the data is primarily collected through systematic observations and interactions and takes the form of nonnumeric texts in the form of words, sentences, and observational and interview notes. This data is often turned into field notes. To gain insight into a setting unstructured, semi-structured, and structures interviews are often completed. In addition, the contexts of conversations are also studied through conversational analysis.


Ultimately, the researcher determines the findings of the study because of their central role in conducting the research, generating the data, and analyzing the data. Due to this the researcher is often identified as a research instrument since the research conducted is always influenced by the characteristics of the researcher.

Once data is collected coding is completed to identify which parts of the data are useful for analysis. During this process many researchers create a typology or develop themes for the data.


Reflexivity is when the researcher critically identifies how their characteristics, values, history, and choices made during the studies, affected the study results. These affects are often identified through their reflections.


The procedures for conducting field research are complicated because they depend on the paradigm used by the researcher. This chapter focused on two types of paradigms. A positivist paradigm focuses on objectivism, value-free research, and reliability. However, many researchers use interpretive paradigm that focuses on the ideal that social reality and social meaning are closely related within a given setting.


One of the many differences among the paradigms is the role of values on research. The role of values in field research is an ongoing area of disagreement among researchers.


Discussion Prompts:

-Since the outcomes of field research studies are influenced by researcher affects, how reliable do you find these studies?
-If you were to create a field research study, what would you do to ensure your participation had little affect on the outcome of the study?
-Which paradigm system would you use in a research study (positive or interpretive)? Why would you choose this paradigm?
-One of the many differences among the paradigms is the role of values on research. The role of values in field research is an ongoing area of disagreement among researchers. What are the positive and negative aspects of both sides?
-When could a field research study provide more benefit than a quantitative study
-Why do you think that a majority of qualitative studies focus on status characteristics? (gender, race, etc.)