Class Notes: Sociology 371
- Ethnographic I
- Positivist Science: survey research
- Artistic and interpretive
- Maxwell - Chapters 1 and 2
- Qualitative research doesn't follow linear processes, but rather involves looping back, recursive redesign.
- 5 connected portions of research:
- Conceptual context
- Research Questions
- 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
- Using research questions as working hypotheses - to get started with what will initially get focus.
- 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.
- Using brackets: Initial notes, with later annotation in brackets.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- How do we negotiate physical space during fieldwork? What have you already observed while in the field?
- 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?”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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?
- 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)
- What do we owe to future sociologists? What do we owe to those we observe? What do you think?
- What is triangulation? Why is it important? (Fine et al p. 187) What are some practical applications from your own research?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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)
- 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?
- 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?
- “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)?
- 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?
- For next week: Bring two copies of fieldnotes for exchange with Becky.
Questions from Readings
Reading: Learning from Strangers - Chapter 4 - Weiss
- 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.
Reading: Learning from Strangers - Chapter 5 - Weiss
- "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.
- "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?