Chapter 11: Qualitative field research
Field research yields the qualitative data: observations not easily reduced to numbers.
It can also be used to collect quantitative data also such as noting the nb of interactions of
various types within a field setting.
When reporting an analysis of a tattoo culture after conducting a 3-year participant-
observation study in Toronto and Calgary Michael Atkinson included quantitative info
that he collected from tattoo artists and clients. These included gender, age, education
level, income, marital status and race.
What are some topics appropriate for Field Research?
Study of those attitudes and behaviours that are best understood in natural setting.
Study of social processes over time
Episodes: events such as divorce crime
Encounters with other people
Analysis of positions and roles that people occupy
Small groups like friendship cliques
Organisations like hospitals
Ethnography and Participant Observation:
For some, ethnography and participant observation as a way of studying any group,
phenomenon and so forth in its natural environment.
For others, it is viewed as somewhat distinctive, referring to naturalistic observations.
It is referred with travel to a foreign land by anthropological researchers who immerse
themselves in a different culture and report their investigations in a richly descriptive
manner, providing readers with an intimate feel for the way of life they observed.
Case Study Design
A case study is conducted when the social researcher focuses attention on a single
instance of some social phenomenon like a town, an industry, a community, an
organization or a person.
It refers to the design of the research study. It concerns what unit the researcher will
focus upon not how the data will be collected.
The purpose of a case study is to focus on specificities of the case, providing rich detailed
An example of case study is the David Aliaga’s case study of a single Italian immigrant
community in Calgary in an effort to describe the economic integration and success of
Concentrations in field research: Observers in field research can play a variety of roles, including participating in what
they want to study.
This raises an ethical issue on whether it is right for deceive the other people or not.
Some say it is not right while others argue that If the people being studied know that
they’re being studied, they might modify their behaviour in a variety of ways. This is
known as the problem of Reactivity.
Relations to observer:
Traditionally, social scientist say that the researcher should be objective and at distance to
Recently some sociologists claim that there are many benefits that can be get by
immersing in the point of views of the observers.
Robert Bellah offered the term symbolic realism to indicate the need for social
researchers to treat the beliefs of their observers as worthy of respect rather than as object
Example of a Qualitative field research is the study of Daniel Wolfe who decided to do
the research on an outlaw motorcycle club. He wanted to know their own world view and
how did they collectively create their sub-cultures.
He did so by joining that motorcycle club and getting the info more profoundly.
It is an attempt to derive theory from an analysis of the patterns, themes and common
categories discovered in observat