Ethnography and participant observation Ethnography is the study of people in naturally occurring settings or 'fields' by means of methods which capture their social meanings and ordinary activities, involving the researcher participating directly in the setting, if not also the activities, in order to collect data in a systematic manner but without meaning being imposed on them externally (Brewer, 2000: 10). [Ethnography] involves the ethnographer participating overtly or covertly in people's daily lives for an extended period of time, watching what happens, listening to what is said, asking questions - in fact, collecting whatever data are available to throw light on the issues that are the focus of research. (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1995: 1)
The 'Crisis' in Ethnography • Dimensions of the crisis: • notions of ‘culture’ and ‘way of life’ • can one become immersed in another culture? • the ‘textual turn’ in social theory • objectivity, validity and authenticity
Crisis as a problem • Ethnography as narrative: • narrative and science • Authorial authority – textual meanings as emergent • relationship between social location of author and knowledge • Richardson (1992:131): ‘no matter how we stage the text, we – the authors – are doing the staging.’
Reflexivity ‘…The self is positioned in a range of contexts – cultural, historical, political, gendered and sexual. As partial […], positioned selves, the identity work we engaged in during fieldwork cannot help but draw on these contexts of the self…’ (Coffey, 1999: 94) ‘…good research is that which accounts for the conditions of its own production and that, in order to achieve this, the researcher must concern herself with how she reacts to and experiences the process of research’ (Ackers, 1993)
Tales from the Field • inter-relationship of informants, gate-keepers, access and biographies • initial access, situational access, ongoing access • researcher involvement: influencing the field or an opportunity for further data?
The Management and Analysis of Participant Observation Data • Formulate a definition of a problem or an issue • Examine appropriate cases and formulate possible explanations • Test these explanations for further cases. • If there is lack of fit reformulate the explanation. • Continue until there are no further cases that are inconsistent with the explanation; or • Reformulate the explanation.
Ethics • Taking care of research participants: • facilitate informed consent • protect those who take part in research (through anonymity, etc) • don’t deceive • don’t misuse the results of the research (or to allow them to be misused) • Taking care of the researcher
Discussion Questions • If we are to take ‘positionality’ seriously, must we accept that there are some kinds of participation observation that we personally could not do? • Is there a place for ‘emotions’ in fieldwork? • Where does power lie in the relationship between researcher and research subject?