Class Notes: Sociology 371

From BrothersBrothers

Class 1

  1. Ethnographic I
    • Positivist Science: survey research
    • Realism
    • Artistic and interpretive
  2. Maxwell - Chapters 1 and 2
    • Qualitative research doesn't follow linear processes, but rather involves looping back, recursive redesign.
    • 5 connected portions of research:
      • Purposes
      • Conceptual context
      • Research Questions
      • Methods
      • Validity
    • Purposes:
      • Personal purposes: interests
      • Practical purposes: career goals, grant justification, how might this research help people
      • Research purposes: what are the actual questions, what is this relationship of potential findings to furthering knowledge
    • Qualitative research:
      • Discover meaning
      • Develop theories
      • Design quantitative instruments
      • Can be read and understood in a number of settings, since it doesn't involve statistical tools
      • Evaluation research, collaborative action
    • NSF and NIH proposals for writing qualitative research proposals

Class 3

  1. Using research questions as working hypotheses - to get started with what will initially get focus.
  2. Do I tell the observed that they are being observed? This could be informed by the nature of the relationship between the observer and the observed.
  3. Using brackets: Initial notes, with later annotation in brackets.
  4. Sketches: a "still life" of the setting; or telling a detailed story of a "basic" or mundane version of the event. These may be ways to bring small details into attention, avoid being caught in first impressions/past impressions.

Class 4

  1. What were some of your initial reactions to Goffman’s speech?
    • "How realistic is it to 'cut your life to the bone.'"
    • The affiliation issue - "you can't move down a social system, you can only move up a social system."
    • Goffman: "Asylums", checked himself into psychiatric hospitals, multiple people in different asylums.
  2. How does Goffman’s social position (as a white, educated, middle class man) inform the assumptions and assertions that he makes about fieldwork?
    • Emerging self is available to a position of privilege.
  3. Goffman discusses entering the field so people won’t think you’re a “fink.” Are we all “finks” in the end? Consider Baca Zinn’s internal struggle to exit the field site, feeling like she had exploited the community though she had attempted to give back as much as she felt she had taken.
    • Baca Zinn overhears conversation where people are observing that she is leaving the field.
  4. As researchers, do we have a political responsibility, as Baca Zinn describes (p 166), or is this something that we choose? And if we have a political responsibility, what is it?
  5. What is the role of humility in doing field research, regardless of whether you are considered an insider or outsider? How do you enter the field openly, willing to, as Goffman says, make an ass of yourself?
  6. Taylor and Rupp describe the ways in which the Drag Queens would attempt to reconcile the imbalance of power in the relationship between the researchers and informants. What are your thoughts on this? How do we as researchers negotiate these power dynamics and relationships?
  7. How do power dynamics and issues of privilege come up across the readings for this week? In our work, how do we recognize how these may appear? Do we see potential instances in your work? How would you address those?
  8. Baca Zinn talks about our political responsibility to the community, but what are our other responsibilities? Should we attempt to leave behind a better community?
  9. Ellis brings up the issue of the researcher’s body. Could we draw parallels between the different articles as it pertains to the use of the researcher’s body in the field?
  10. How do we negotiate physical space during fieldwork? What have you already observed while in the field?
  11. A student in Ellis’s class describes how she “holds back” as a researcher because of fear that she may become “one of [the people she’s observing]” (p 96) How and why, as researchers, may we feel apprehensive about immersing ourselves completely and “going native”? Can “remaining foreign” be as problematic as “going native?”
  12. For next week: Observe from a distance where you can't hear what's going on, but you can see what's going on - about 5 minutes. Then try 5 minutes where you can't see but you can hear.
  13. For next week: Our first memo: Write a memo (about 1 page, single spaced) discussing the potential consequences of the ways I entered the field site, using readings to support discussion.

Class 5

  1. Do you think that, as a researcher, putting your biases on the table at the outset makes your work more authentic, less scientific, both, neither? How is “embracing subjectivity... also problematic” (Fine p. 287)? If all qualitative evaluation research is “always ‘contaminated’ by the perspective that the researcher brings to the question and by the emotions generated in the field” (Fine p. 287) then can it still be considered science? Do the natural sciences suffer from this “contamination”?
    • To what degree are the acknowledged elements of our subjectivity explanatory of the types of biases that we have?
    • Social location vs. biases
  2. Fine claims that ethnographers are not being “fair” if they wish to take sides or protect certain groups from harm (Fine p. 287). Do you think this is an accurate interpretation of ethnographic justice? What other types of justice may an ethnographer hope to achieve?
  3. What is the problem with portraying the researched as victims in order to help garner more support for their cause? (see Fine et al p. 183, p. 197)
  4. What do we owe to future sociologists? What do we owe to those we observe? What do you think?
  5. What is triangulation? Why is it important? (Fine et al p. 187) What are some practical applications from your own research?
  6. Thorne feels “tugs of memory” when she encounters archetypal schoolgirls and boys. She feels closer to the girls, but she “paradoxically” feels she can see the boys’ activities more clearly. Why does Thorne see this as a paradox? How does this paradox impact not only her research, but sociological research in general? More generally, what are the dangers of researching groups that you can’t relate to? What about people against whom you have an extreme bias? Should we do this kind of research?
  7. How can the researched also “exploit” the researcher? (Fine p. 275; Fine et al p. 181, p. 195) What can the researched get out of the process?
  8. Is it okay to conceal your identity if uncovering it would ultimately terminate the research process (even if your story would hold up should the facts be brought to light)? (see Goffman 1989; Fine p. 277)
  9. Thorne says that, “what I wrote was not under their [the school administration’s] control, and, like all fieldworkers, I lived with ambiguous ethics” (230). Why might she be using the word ambiguous here? Is this a euphemism for something else? Similarly, how does Leo justify his “chameleon strategy” (p. 266)? Is this a sufficient justification?
  10. Throne admits that she and Miss Bailey were at “cross-purposes”—Thorne wants chaos, while Miss Bailey wants order (p. 233). She participates in the underground economy of food, against the wishes of the administrators in order to…do what exactly? Create rapport with students? For what/whose benefit?
  11. “Doing distance,” both physically and intellectually, is an important aspect of methodology for Emerson & Pollner. Do you agree? How do field notes function in the process of distancing (p. 254 especially)?
  12. Leo takes the content of his field notes into account when deciding to give them up. This backfires…but independent of this fact (i.e., even if the case would have turned out differently), should he have given up his notes? What moral does he draw from that story, that is, what does he think sociologists and other “fact finders, educators, and questioners” out to be fighting for?
  13. For next week: Bring two copies of fieldnotes for exchange with Becky.

Class 6

Questions from Readings

Reading: Learning from Strangers - Chapter 4 - Weiss
  1. This chapter is helpful in that it provides normative guidance about conducting interviews: Do this. Don't do this. Were there places where you perceived that the rules, as presented, were a bit too restrictive?
    • In particular, I noticed here that the focus of the interviews was on specific events in the respondent's lives and their emotional responses to those events. Couldn't interviews also be conducted to target beliefs or cognitive content, where generalizations and summaries made by the respondent are the content that are of interest?
    • The author's opinion on this is made more clear on page 150 - in which he discusses how generalizations tend to be context-dependent. I think this is a very interesting observation that could complexify qualitative research in the area of ethics.
  2. What about overlapping roles and confidentiality? Healthcare providers and researcher? Community action and researcher?
Reading: Learning from Strangers - Chapter 5 - Weiss
  1. "Institutional review boards set up for the protection of human subjects sometimes worry about an interviewer shaking up a respondent's defenses and weakening his or her integration. They imagine a respondent reacting like Captain Queeg during his cross-examination, becoming all nervous tic and jittery incoherence. I suppose this is theoretically possible, but I have never known it to happen. It seems to me unlikely to happen if only because virtually all respondents will have successfully defended their character organization against severe onslaughts-such as those launched by an angry spouse-and will have little trouble dealing with the much lesser threat an interview may pose." What is going on here? What is the ethical basis for the concern about "integration" and "character organization"? We might instead worry about non-soul-shaking distress, or about privacy, or about a whole number of other concerns that have come up so far in the class.
  2. "Malcolm characterizes all journalists-her argument can be extended to anyone who interviews-as confidence men, skilled at establishing relationships of apparent warmth and trust so they can obtain information that they will later use for their own purposes. The result, she says, is that respondents feel, at the very least, misled." We have talked about a similar ethical concern with respect to fieldwork, but not with respect to interviewing. Are there differences in the concerns of this sort raised by interviews and those raised by ethnographic fieldwork? This may be especially important based on the culture of the interviewed and the interviewer.
Reading: The Ethnographic I - Chapter 3 - Ellis
  1. What's the difference between co-constructed narrative as a sociological method and similar narrative techniques in other disciplines, like literature and religious studies? Are there different ends?
  2. What should we make of the conflicting claims between Ellis, who finds telling one's own story to be an effective way to elicit additional details of the interviewee's stories and Gorden's claim that giving one's own story is not an effective way to get additional details?
Reading: Talking and Listening from Women's Standpoint - Devault
  1. "To some extent, this kind of problem must exist for everyone: language can never fit perfectly with individual experience. My claim, however, is that the problems of what we might call linguistic incongruence must be greater for some groups than for others. Research on gender differences in speech provides some support for this claim, suggesting that, in at least some contexts, women face particular difficulties of speech."
    • Approaches that focus on "linguistic practices" highlight the way that experience and knowledge is shaped by language. That is, our experience, and the knowledge that we acquire through that experience, is conditioned by the language we have available to describe that experience, both internally and externally. These claims therefore create difficulty for one another: can language and experience be incongruent with one another, if we are to conceptualize them as engaged in a dialectic relationship? What, then, of "false consciousness"?
  2. "Most members of a society learn to interpret their experiences in terms of dominant language and meanings; thus, women themselves (researchers included) often have trouble seeing and talking clearly about their experiences." "In order to 'recover' these parts of women's lives, researchers must develop methods for listening around and beyond words."
    • What should we make of these claims? I am not so much concerned about rigor as I am authenticity - What can we say about the ability of women researchers to listen "around and beyond" the words spoken by women who are seen as having "trouble seeing and talking clearly"?
      • Another quote on this: "My procedure, which I have illustrated above, involves noticing ambiguity and problems of expression in interview data, then drawing on my own experience in an investigation aimed at "filling in" what has been incompletely said."
    • Two possible challenges to this perspective:
      • Is gender the primary problem, or is experience in the area being studied? What about males who do the cooking for the household? What about females who don't cook?
      • What about differences that are due to geographic location, cultural setting, language, oral traditions, and simple idiosyncrasy? Does having the same gender as the interviewee really provide the needed insight?
Reading: Probing to meet informational objectives - Gorden
  1. The discussion questions at the end of the article are hilarious.
  2. Put in first question, but use it as an opportunity to talk about the use of silence in interviews, discomfort with silence, reactions to silence.

Class 7

  1. Many of the readings for this week have dealt with decisions relating to the data collection process. Discuss some of the ways these decisions impact the data, and ultimately, the analysis. Consider:
    1. The omitting of "those phrases and sections of the original interview… deemed as 'nonrelevant.'" (Bird, p. 235)
      • Reference back to earlier reading where "ums" and "ers" were indication that interviewee is having trouble getting something out.
    2. Representing transcription as conversation (Bird, p.237)
    3. Including tone in the transcription. Are there ways in which we can get at tone by asking good follow-up interview questions? Think back to Weiss, where a recommended strategy in interviewing was to state verbally what the interviewer was observing, such as saying “you just rolled your eyes. Was that sarcastic?” as a way to get at the texture of the conversation. Is that effective in trying to grasp “tone”? How does this relate (if at all) to Emerson et al.’s stance on pursuing member’s meanings? (Starting on p. 112).
    4. The pros/cons of having someone else transcribe your fieldnotes.
      • Can you interpret the transcriptions better because you were there? If not, probably best to transcribe yourself.
      • Having a face sheet or summary after every interview is very helpful - can help record observations, general interpretations, explain what happened in the middle of the interview that won't be caught on the tape.
  2. What choices have you made in transcribing your fieldnotes to include/exclude certain details? Why? Would another observer include/exclude the same things? How do you ensure that you have captured "what local people consider meaningful"? (Emerson et al. p. 108) How can grounded theory help you decide what to include and exclude?
    • Could give the interviewed person a chance to correct transcriptions, etc. This could either be additional data, or could modify the data.
  3. What does Bird (p. 238) mean when she says "the words and phrases" of her fieldnotes were the "unit of analysis?" How does coding fieldnotes differ "fundamentally from coding quantitative research"? (Emerson et al. p. 151) What is open coding?
  4. Is it more accurate to say a researcher "creates" rather than "discovers" theory? (Emerson et al. p. 167). Think in particular about how Miles and Huberman view the processes of data collection and analysis as occurring in tandem (p.50).
    • Create seems to imply a creative act that comes from the individual in isolation. Discovery might involve some creative agent, but involves a context and background.
  5. Many of these authors have made statements about knowledge creation and bias throughout the data collection, coding, and analyzing processes. Bird walks us through her experiences of creating such knowledge, including the ways in which the transcription tools aided and impeded the process. How does the use of such technological tools impact the knowledge that we produce? Does it affect the end story?
    • Rainer Raps - "Testing the Fetus"
    • US tech will know the gender of the baby, but parent won't, so that drives parent crazy and then decides they need to know
  6. Emerson et al. list a number of anxieties that an open-ended approach that can occur among students using these methods (p.154), and Miles and Huberman list four recurring nightmares researchers have about analysis (p.77). Have you experienced any of them during your work thus far? Having now read some practical ways to accomplish coding and analysis, have any of the strategies in particular helped to alleviate these anxieties? How so?
  7. Emerson states that a criticism of ethnography is that “ethnographic treatments of gender, ethnicity, or class are narrowly restricted to empirical observations: that is, the ethnographies describe specific locales and situations as isolated from the broader social structures and forces that critically determine specific events and individuals” (p. 134). Based on what you have learned about ethnography thus far, do you agree with this criticism? How can we, as researchers, compensate for this potential weakness? Is it even important to correct?
  • Before next class visit, Atlas ti "tutorial" - working through help menu - can get in second floor computer lab in Garland
  • Draft interview guides due next time.
  • Weiss in chapter 3 also has discussion on interview guides
  • Interview guides are usually only available in dissertation or by asking the researcher
  • By April 26 interview transcript with comments in Weiss format
  • When we do our interview, we don't need to turn in fieldnotes that week
  • Inqsribe - transcription software

Class 8

  1. Grounded Theory: If a particular metaphor about virginity loss is preferred, then the following behaviors are more likely...
  2. Validation:
    • Triangulation - informant says something, and then confirmed by observation, or talking to students and then talking to their teachers.
  • Book reviews due March 29:
    • Example book review: Contemporary Sociology journal
    • Focus a relatively large amount of attention on method, but also include review of what the book does
  • Do tutorial with Atlas.ti before next week.
    • Consider converting files to RTF format, bring electronic copies of field notes

Class 9

Class 11

  1. Reconstructing Social Theories - Burawoy, Two Cases of Ethnography - Tavory, and Analytic Induction Revisited - Katz
    • Just to get some of the definitions clear, discuss how you understand the differences between grounded theory and the extended case method.
    • Which method do you think you are using in thinking about your own fieldwork?
      • It's easier to problematize rather than construct
    • Have you encountered difficulties in coding some of the material in your fieldwork? Do you think you are encountering negative cases?
    • Based on this discussion, what do you see as the strengths of extended case method?
    • From the perspective of epistemological claims and scholarly utility, which do you think makes the stronger case: grounded theory or the extended case method? In other words, which of the two makes stronger claims about lining up the theoretical and the empirical, and which produces a product that is of greater use within the field?
  2. Silence, Death, and the Invisible Enemy - Gamson
    • How did Gamson use the extended case method to revise theory on social movements?
    • Although fieldwork we have been doing is not yet "extended", they are specific case studies. Approaching your own fieldwork as an extended case, discuss how you think your work provides some of the benefits of the extended case method identified by Burawoy. For example, does your case allow you to revise or clarify specific theories or assumptions because of its particular features?
    • In the last section of this piece, Gamson says that he went back to theory to gain some distance on his fieldwork. Have you had that same experience? Did doing your book review, or reading other literature, cause you to revise the way you are thinking about your fieldwork?
      • Think about literature on professionalization of roles as a way to makes sense between Bosk and my fieldwork.

Class 13

  1. Emerson and colleagues discuss thematic narratives as ethnographic stories that incorporate several themes that are linked by a common topic. What themes and overall topics have you found in your work thus far? (p.171)
    • Consider themes to be the possible answers to research questions.
    • For example, the question could be "How are patients assessed." The answers could be ways patients are assess, but also the level of patient involvement in that assessment, elements that are missed.
  2. Emerson and colleagues discuss thematic narratives as ethnographic stories that incorporate several themes that are linked by a common topic. What themes and overall topics have you found in your work thus far? (p.171)
    • Also about starting text
  3. In previous class discussions, we have debated about the pros and cons of editing quotations. Weiss also raises this discussion in the reading. What are the pros and cons of the preservationist and standardized approaches? Which one would you use?
    • Removing some of the ums and ahs in order to make the point more clear, but not removing it all so that some of the flavor of the language remains.
  4. Weiss debates about the extent to which an author presents him or herself in the report (p.189).
    • What you do you think about this?
    • What are the advantages/disadvantages of the realist/confessional styles?
    • Which one do you anticipate using in your own work? Why?
      • Inclusion of more detailed information on methods is more likely when article is outside of the norm of the journal, or for interdisciplinary journals. Or when the methods are out of the norm.
  5. Miller, Creswell and Olander write about their experiences at a soup kitchen to learn how to write a “good ethnography.” What are some lessons that we can learn from this work?

Class 14

  1. Picking a signal event and then looking into what is going on there, what you need to examine to identify what is going on there.
  2. Role of interview: "It's fair game." But don't need to pull in material that isn't relevant to focus of paper if the interview didn't touch on that.
  3. OK for findings and methods discussion to overlap some. Can give narrative type discussion about methods.
  4. Distinction between results and discussion section artificial, maybe more of a "here's what I saw, this is what it means..."
  5. Funding
    • NSF guidelines on qualitative research - what makes "good," "useful" research
  6. Brief Ideas:
    • Intro: Focus on moving risk discussion into primary care
      • Genetic counselors could teach PCPs, but I prefer to treat the practice of providers who routinely talk about genetics as an "uninspected and unchallenged monopoly of ideas on 'their' subject". In other words, I set out to discover what goes on when genetics providers talk about genetics, not what they say happens or what should happen (Becker 7).
    • My own training as a primary care pediatrician
      • Not problematizing some categories that I assume that I use as a native, as an insider. That is, I have not investigated whether these concepts and categories are used by my subjects because I assume that we are co-members of a group. For example, I have not problematized the roles with which participants are labeled - genetic counselor, medical geneticist, etc.
    • Extended case method
    • Genetic counselor literature on certain elements of the paper
    • Assuming student role
    • Focus on verbal elements, data collection takes shape primarily of handwriting in as much detail as possible.
    • Distinction between the roles of medical geneticists and genetic counselors as highlighting how primary care role in dealing with risk is different
      • KO's thoughts about PCPs having their own types of skills
    • Last section: from is to ought

Book Review

  1. Could be book related to our paper, or something else interesting.

Final Paper

  1. Members: people to include, describe who is commonly there, who comes in and out
    • Regular people with roles, people who are there a lot, and also a "cast of extras"
  2. For the purposes of the paper, pick a stopping point, acknowledge that there is data that is not yet gathered, but more could be gathered on this topic, this could be clarified
  3. How to use quotes, using one quote that exemplifies versus many. Depending on length and audience, may demonstrate using one quote, or bolster using multiple quotes. It is also driven by the concerns inside the project.
  4. Focus:
    • Typically the shortest section is the methods in an article, but in the paper methods should be more detailed than in article, but not necessarily focused on methods - maybe a quarter to a third on methods. This might include describing the setting, the cast, my own past experience
  5. Findings: Some connecting my findings to what others have found, but not really focusing on that. "Give short shrift to the literature review." Focus is on findings.
  6. Charts or tables are acceptable, especially if this is the way that I think.
  7. Paper due by the end of the work day on Friday, 4/29/11.
  8. There may be a very well-defined theory, but when something obviously fits into a category in that theory, try to set that aside and imagine "If it's not that, then what is it?"
    • For Bernadette, the lived experience already doesn't fit perfectly within the theory. One way to discuss might be: How do things on the ground look different from the policy assumptions?

From the Syllabus

  1. The final version is due on Friday, April 29 (three days after our last meeting). This paper, based on your field work and/or interviews, is intended to provide you a forum for synthesizing what you’ve learned from different segments of the course. In it, you will seriously engage with the methodological issues we’ve discussed throughout the course and begin to connect your findings to the literature on your topic. You are encouraged, but not required, to make an appointment to discuss your paper with me (there will, of course, be plenty of opportunities to discuss your research during seminar).
  2. The general format is as follows:
    • 15-20 pages (typed & double-spaced). Make sure you number your pages and check grammar and spelling carefully. Papers using smaller than normal (1-inch) margins and/or smaller than 12-point font will NOT be accepted.
    • Cite all literature (including class readings) in the style of your choice (e.g., ASR, APA, Chicago B).
    • Begin with a general introduction describing your initial question and (marshalling your knowledge of the relevant literature) explaining why it merits further study.
    • Include a detailed methods section. This is where you will demonstrate your knowledge of and engagement with issues addressed in the course. Please include:
      • A description of the setting, its relevant features and members. Don’t forget to justify its appropriateness to your research question and discuss its limitations.
      • A discussion and defense of your field procedures: sampling decisions and their implications for generalizability and representativeness, strategies for recording data, and data reliability and validity.
      • An evaluation of the ways your identity and role in the setting may (or may not) have affected your research – and any other ethical issues you deem (or other field researchers would be likely to deem) relevant.
      • A summary of the strategies you used to analyze your data.
      • Contain a section in which you present your findings from the field, including supporting data (e.g., field note extracts, direct and paraphrased interview quotes).
      • Conclude with a discussion & conclusions section, in which you link your findings back to the literature and review possibilities for future research.