Soc 3307a
Ethnographic Studies and
Other Types of Field
Types of field research
Ethnography, ethnomethodology,
phenomenological studies, grounded theory
studies are all different variants of what is
called field research in sociology
Often field research is a combination of two
or more approaches, done along with
Case studies may also be done.
A way of building an understanding the culture and
behaviours of a group as a whole.
Done in a setting or field site where a group of
people share a common culture.
In sociology, ethnography usually called a field
 Participant Observation
 Interviews with Informants
 Examination of documents and cultural artifacts
Is associated with studying the natural setting.
Has its roots in cultural anthropology, whereby
the researcher examines a group’s observable
and learned patterns of behaviour, customs, and
ways of life by getting involved in the day-to-day
lives of the people or by interviewing one-on-one
members of a group.
Can be used to study of ethnic collectivities.
Used to study how members of ethnic groups
identify themselves, how they give meaning to
their ethno-cultural identity and how it has
changed across generations.
Changes in Ethnographic Research
Tedlock (2000) identifies various genres in
ethnographic history
Life history – “representative” individual stands for a culture
Memoir – “a corner of author’s own life”
Narrative Ethnography – hybrid of biography (life history) and
personal memoir – includes ethnographic “novels” that
combine “internal textual accuracy with external cultural
accuracy” and literary ethnographies (fictive works)
Tell-all ethnographic diaries
New trend for ethnography to become more critical and
emancipatory moving from “participant observation to the
observation of participation” (Tedlock)
Changes (cont.)
Feminism has had a democratizing influence to
“co-produced ethnographic knowledge”
Trend: “critical interactive self-other dialogue”
See Tedlock’s Ethnography and Ethnographic
Representation (2000) in supplementary readings
New Ethnography (Berg) - detailed examination of
people and their social discourses and the various
outcomes of their actions.
“Extensive fieldwork of various types including participant
observation, formal and informal interviewing, document
collecting, filming, recording and so on.”
The study of commonsense knowledge
How do individuals make sense of social
situations and act on their knowledge?
What are the tacit rules used by members of
a culture?
Detailed studies of interactions
Breeching experiments (Garfinkel)
To uncover hidden norms
Phenomenological Study
Understanding an experience from a research
participant's point of view
Interview several participants as to their perceptions
of an experience
Try to build a picture of the experience through
using a combination of theories, literature in the
area, illustrated by anecdotes, to build a detailed
portrait of the experience
Use of Max Weber’s “verstehen”
Example: Grace Pike’s Phenomenological
Reflections on the Failing Grade (handout)
Grounded Theory Study
Def’n: The systematic generation of theory from
Is an “experiential” methodology
Theories are empirically grounded into the data.
 Data collection and analysis are combined.
 Cycle – observe data, modify theory, observe
data based on theory
An “inductive” theory building process
Developed 1960’s by Barney Glaser, Anselm
Strauss (1968)
Often used for clinical sociology
An important methodological breakthrough
Grounded Theory (cont.)
Main assumptions (Glaser and Strauss):
Social life integrated and patterned
All actions integrated with other actions
Can discover pattern categories within which the
action is integrated
All social action is multivariate
Inductive vs. deductive is an
oversimplification of complex thinking
processes (i.e. thinking up hypotheses
actually an inductive process)
Validity in Field Research
Problematic because of investigator
Can counteract by:
using multiple sources of evidence,
establishing a chain of evidence as in a grounded
theory study
and having a draft case study report reviewed by
key informants (Yin, 1994)
Preparing for the field:
Become familiar with the people being studied
 argot (specialized language)
Background preparation and literature review
important first step
Talking to potential informants
 Look for referrals
Plan how to gain entry into the group
 Gatekeepers
 Public vs. private settings
Tips to Gain Entry
 Identify
and befriend a gatekeeper
 Seek out guides and informants
you should learn who the “important”
people are that can help you or hinder your
research. How can they help you? How
can they hinder/influence your research?
Copyright © Allyn & Bacon 2010
Becoming Invisible
 Researcher
presence without causing
undue group interference.
Dangers of invisibility
 Intentional
 Accidental misidentification
 Learning more than you want to know
 Guilty
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Getting Acclimated
 Take
in the physical setting
 Develop relationships with inhabitants
 Track, observe, eavesdrop and ask
 Locate subgroups and group leaders
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 “Converts”
(going ‘native’) vs. “double
agents” (Tedlock, 2000)
 Ambient Danger
Dangerous research settings
 Situational
Danger is triggered by researcher’s
Copyright © Allyn & Bacon 2010
Field Notes
 Narrative
accounts of what goes on in
the lives of study subjects
Verbal Exchanges
 Practices you observe
 Connections you see
Copyright © Allyn & Bacon 2010
Field note-taking...
Create detailed accounts of observation of
behaviour, conversations. You do this at
various points throughout….
Cryptic Notes: brief notes, statements,
unusual terms, sketches.
Detailed Notes: right after your observation,
include texture, sensation, color and minutiae
Analytic Notes: your own ideas, comments,
application of theories to what you observed.
Self-reflective notes: your personal
observations and emotions
Strategies for Recollection
Record key words
and key phrases
while in the field
 Make notes about
the sequence of
 Limit the time you
remain in the setting
Write the full notes
immediately after
exiting the field
 Write notes before
sharing thoughts
with others
Copyright © Allyn & Bacon 2010
A Note on Reflexivity:
Acknowledging that your own subjectivity is part
of the research and can influence outcome.
In ethnography, reflexivity is not only
encouraged, it is demanded.
You must have a “dialogue” about not only what
you know, but how you come to know –how did
you arrive to your interpretations, and disclose
that in your writing.
Initial analysis of field notes
Typologies- classify similar events,
actions, and people into discrete
groupings, by how they share similar
“culture” in setting.
After having spent time in the field, look for
patterns, similarities, and divide them into
groupings that are exhaustive, mutually
exclusive and have a significant meaning
for differentiation.
Go back into the field and use your
typology for further observation
 Graphic
displays of relationships among
people you are observing in the field
Positive peer nominations
 Negative peer nominations
Copyright © Allyn & Bacon 2010
Advantages of ethnography and
other types of field research
High external validity
 Can study nonverbal behaviour
 Flexibility
 Natural environment
 Longitudinal analysis
 Relatively inexpensive
Disadvantages of field research
Time consuming
Not applicable to investigation of large social
Low internal validity (lack of control)
Biases, attitudes, and assumptions of the
Selective perception and memory
Selectivity in data collection
Presence of the researcher may change the
system or group being studied
Virtually impossible to replicate the findings