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October 30,2013 -3N06 Lecture Notes.doc

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McMaster University
Political Science
Todd Alway

October 30, 2013 Political Science 3N06 Political Science 3N06 2013 Lecture 8a Field Research - Abstract or real world context; - Interviewing is one type of method that can reveal how people see the world - However, both structured and unstructured interviewing rely on a somewhat artificial social context for exploring the lived reality of interviewees - The interview is itself a social context – one that generates answers that are not necessarily generalizable to other social contexts - So for maximum ecological validity o To develop a naturalistic understanding of social life - Why not study social life out there and as it happens? - Social spaces; real world is characterized by things that we do not see in the interview context; Field Research - Key principle underpinning field research is naturalism o Understanding social behaviour in its natural environment; o IMF policy documents; understand the area that they’re created in; o Understanding behaviour and social dynamics as they actually occur rather than artificial environments; - Field research involves going out into the field and undertaking direct research - Using your senses – sight, smell, touch, and hearing - to observe the world around you - The field is not limited to exotic third world locales (although it can include them) - The field is any social field that you are interested in understanding - The key is to find a social space and occupy it so that it can be observed - For at least some versions of field work, you must get inside the group not just physically, but epistemically - You have to develop an insider’s perspective of reality o While simultaneously maintaining your detached outsider’s social scientific point of view - The relationship between Observer and Observed - There is a basic continuum of roles that you can occupy when undertaking fieldwork: A) T HE COMPLETE OBSERVER (NON -PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION ) - The complete observer goes out into the field without hiding the fact that she is an observer - Not a part of the social environment on the edges; watching and recording; o IMF – gatekeepers; - Once inside the research space, try to remain quiet; - Tries to remain inconspicuous, but does not deceive - Leads to the potential problem of REACTIVITY o People aren’t stupid; If it’s clear that you are observing them, they will see this and this might lead them to modify their behaviour; o Are you actually seeing natural behaviour? Even if you are out there in the field attempting to look at it? o Significant for certain types of behaviors; o Nature of the phenomenon o One that you can control, is the conspicuous  Research on the impact that being a woman can have; 1 October 30, 2013 Political Science 3N06 - Those being observed will know that they are being observed and act accordingly - In other words, the very act of observing might change the behaviour you are observing B) The Complete Participant - The other end of the role continuum - In this case, the researcher attempts to pass herself off as a genuine member of the group - Physically, socially, epistemically - To become a true insider – something that reduces reactivity - One way to reduce the reactivity effect is attempting to fit in - Think through the impact you can have as the observer can have on the observed - If it is clear that you are observing or recording it can lead to reactivity - Have to be involved in the group that you are interested in observing; not just an observer, but a group member; o Have to do things undercover, infiltrate the group o Indistinguishable, epistemically, have to think and become engaged in the group. - Look at the things that fractures groups or that makes them coherent; get a sense of the real social dynamic; Research at this end of the spectrum is no longer all that common in Political Science due to ethical concerns - To engage the group as just another member requires deceiving the group about why you are there - Moreover, participation with the group (however neutral the researcher attempts to make that participation) can impact group dynamics - You want to observe the group as it naturally exists - And yet in participating in the activities of the group you are affecting how that group acts - Ways of attempting to recreate the middle role – perhaps a socially invisible role, but there might still be ethical issues. - Of course the above represent the poles o And real research will likely occupy a spot somewhere toward the middle TH N OVEMBER 6 , 2013 - Advantages: - Fieldwork has certain advantages - Holistic - Deep understanding - Helps to reveal the internal meaning of a groups opinions and behavior o Want to understand how the group understand things on its own terms; - Access to sensitive subjects/topics o Particularly if we are talking about covert participant operation; genuine access to sensitive actions; If we confront these groups as an outside research, it’s hard to get what they believe - Being ethically honest, but then people are then aware that you are observing them and they may not behave in a way tha
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