Tag Archive | Fall12

Open Discussion 9/8/12

We will hold the open discussion in the comments of this post.


What is Qualitative Field Research?

How does it fit in with Science, Induction, and Qualitative Validity?

(Geertz) “Thick Description,” The Interpretation of Cultures. p. 3-30 [Daniel]

Geertz, C. (1973). “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture.”

 Geertz’s opening reference to Susanne Langer’s (1942) Philosophy in a New Key

Fundamentally functions as an acknowledgement of the intellectual predecessor of Thomas Kuhn’s (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which the term “paradigm shift” was coined. As was mentioned in class, the transition from a geocentric to a heliocentric conception of the solar system, or from a universe operating according to Newtonian to quantum laws, are classic historical examples of such a shift. This is the background for Geertz’s essential argument that the analysis of culture, the bread and butter of ethnography, is essentially semiotic —
borrowing in large part the kinds of analysis found in late 19th and 20th century Continental and Analytic philosophy.

Geertz argues that sustained analysis of cultural phenomena, and the means of symbolic manipulation on the part of the participants within a culture, produce patterns for understanding that culture. In this way, the observer/ethnographer can, in the process of producing a “thick description,” hit a point of data saturation. Only when themes are continually hit upon does the ethnographer know that he has been successful in identifying a pattern (at least as is consistent with his culturally bound mode of analysis). Geertz indirectly uses the analogy of studying a previously unencountered language. Reducing a language to its phonemic groupings, forming the basis of a functional grammar, and developing an understanding of the underlying patterns and syntactic processes through complete immersion in the unknown language is the only way to grasp it.

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(Bailey) A Guide to Qualitative Field Research. Intro, Chapter 1 [James]

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.

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(Barley) For a Definition of What Ethnography is Not [Nan]

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

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(Trochim) Research Methods Knowledge Base (The Qualitative Debate,…Qualitative Validity) [Mike]

Trochim, Research Methods Knowledge Base.

Trochim (2006) champions qualitative research as a method to develop new ideas and study phenomena in great detail and understanding.  As a tradeoff, qualitative research is not generalizable as opposed to experimental studies, and qualitative research finds much greater difficulty receiving funding.  This is due to the tendancy for that time frames in qualitative research to be much more nebulous, and research questions more likely to change with time.

However, Trochim (2006) also notes that in many cases, there is little real difference between qualitative and quantitative research.  Qualitative data can usually be coded quantitatively, and many supposed purely quantitative surveys use Lichert-scale measures that involve participants making qualitative judgments.   Trochim claims a main difference between the two methods is that qualitative researchers are far more concerned about the context of the phenomena being studied, while quantitative researchers look for the ability to generalize.

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