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Chapter 13

SOC221 - Chapter 13.docx

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University of Toronto Mississauga
Lingqin Feng

SOC221 Week 8, Chapter 13 Chapter 13- Field Research  Field Research is also called participant-observation research. It is a qualt style in which a researcher directly observes & usually participates in small-scale social settings. Research also often uses qualitative interviewing in the process. In field research, the ind researcher directly talks w/ & observes the people being studied. Quesns Appropriate for Field Research  Field research is approp when the research ques involves learning about, understanding or describing a group of interacting people. It is usually best when the quesn is, "How do people do Y in the social world?" or "What is the social world of X like?"  The people who are studied in a field setting → members. They re insiders or "natives" in the field & belong to a group, subculture or social setting that the "outsider" field researcher wants to learn about.  Field researchers have explored a wide variety of social settings, subcultures and aspects of social life. Ethnography  Ethno - people or folk, graphy - refers to describing something.  Ethnography means describing a culture & understanding another way of life from the native point of view. Ethnographies are a particular approach to doing fieldwork. Doing field research is a core part of ethnography, but field research is usually just one part of an ethnographic study.  Ethnography is often considered a methodology rather than a method, which means it is a collection of methods that are tied together by an underlying theoretical orientation.  Ethnography assumes that people make inferences. People display their culture (what people think/believe) through behaviour (e.g., speech & actions) in specific social contexts.  Displays of behaviour don't give meaning; rather meaning is inferred. Moving from what is heard or observed to what is actually meant is at the centre of ethnography.  Cultural knowledge: includes symbols, songs, sayings, ways of behaving & objects. Cultural knowledge involves both explicit (what we know & talk about) & tacit (what we rarely acknowledge) knowledge. The Logic of Field Research What is F.R?  Field research is based on naturalism, which is also used to study other phenomena. Naturalism involves observing ordinary events in natural settings, not in contrived, invented or researcher-created settings.  A f. researcher's goal is to examine social meanings & grasp multiple perspectives in natural social settings. He/she wants to get inside the meaning system of members & then return to an outside or research viewpoint. The researcher switches perspectives & looks at the setting from multiple p.o.v's simultaneously.  F.R can disrupt one's personal life, physical security, mental well-being. It can also reshape friendships, family life, self-identity & personal values. Page 1 of 7 SOC221 Week 8, Chapter 13 Steps in a F.R Project Preparing, Reading & Defocusing  F.R begins w/ a general topic, not specific hypotheses. Selecting a Field Site & Gaining Access to it  Field site: the 1 or more natural locations where a researcher conducts field research.  A site is the context in which events/activities occur, a socially defined territory w/ shifting boundaries. A social group may interact across several physical sites.  A case is a social relationship or activity; it can extend beyond the boundaries of the site & have links to other social settings.  3 factors are relevant when choosing a field research site: richness of data, unfamiliarity & suitability.  Sites that present a web of social relations, a variety of activities & diverse events over time provide richer, more interesting data.  Beginning field researchers should choose an unfamiliar setting. It is easier to see cultural events & social relations in a new site. In a very familiar site, much of the experiences of the group under study may be taken for granted or assumed to be "normal".  A researcher may find that there are legal & political barriers to access. Laws & regulations in institutions (hospitals, prisons) restrict access. Also institutional ethics review boards may limit f.r on ethical grounds. Entering the Field & Establishing Social Relations w/ Members  Once the site has been selected & is accessible, the researcher needs to consider the approp level of involvement & a strategy for entering the field.  Level of Involvement: Field roles can be arranged on a continuum by the degree of detachment or involvement a researcher has w/ members. At 1 extreme is a complete observer; at the other extreme is complete participant. Complete observer, semi-participant & complete participant.  As a complete observer, the researcher's role is limited to simple observation, w/o any participation in the activities of his/her study group. Can help members open up, can facilitate detachment & protect the researcher's self-identity.  Roles at the complete participant end of the continuum facilitate empathy & sharing of a member's experience. The goal of fully experiencing the intimate social world of a member is achieved. However, a lack of distance from, too much sympathy for or over-involvement w/ members is likely. Data gathering is difficult & the distance needed for analysis may be hard to get.  Often researchers adopt a "middle of the road" approach to involvement. They are not complete participants (or full members) of the group they study nor are they complete observers.  Semi-participant: researchers who participate to some extent w/ the activities of a group but who don't immerse themselves completely in the group's culture, giving priority to their role as a social researcher. Page 2 of 7 SOC221 Week 8, Chapter 13  Strategy for Entering: entering a field site requires having a flexible strategy or plan of action, negotiating access & relations w/ members & deciding how much to disclose about the research to field members.  Planning: entering & gaining access to a field state is a process that depends on common- sense judgment & social skills.  Gatekeeper: someone w/ the formal or informal authority to control access to a site. Can be the gang leader, admin of a hospital or the owner of a business.  The researcher must set nonnegotiable limits to protect research integrity. In some sites, gatekeeper approval creates a stigma that inhibits the cooperation of members. Ex: prisoners may not be cooperative if they know that the prison warden gave approval to the researcher.  Negotiating: social relations are negotiated & formed throughout the process of field work. Negotiation occurs w/ each new member until a stable relationship develops to gain access, develop trust, obtain info & reduce hostile reactions.  Deviant groups & elites often require special negotiations for gaining access.  Disclosing: a researcher must decide how much to reveal about himself & the research project. Disclosing one's personal life/background can build trust & close relationships, but the researcher will also lose privacy & his focus.  Disclosure ranges on a continuum. Covert observer: no one in the field is aware that research is taking place.  Overt researcher: where everyone knows the specifics of the research project. Disclosure may unfold over time. Adopting a Social Role & Learning the Ropes  Presentations of Self: people explicitly & implicitly present themselves to others. Researcher must be aware that self-presentation will influence field relations to some degree.  Researcher as Instrument: The researcher is the instrument for measuring field data. 2 implications → i) puts pressure on the researcher to be alert & sensitive to what happens in the field & to be disciplined about recording data. ii) has personal consequences.  Personal, subjective experiences are part of field data. They are valuable for interpreting events in the field.  An Attitude of Strangeness: involves questioning & noticing ordinary details or looking at the ordinary through the eyes of a stranger.  Building Rapport: researcher builds rapport by getting along w/ members in the field. Done through : charm, trust & understanding. Relations In The Field Roles in the Field  Pre-existing vs. Created Roles: some existing roles provide access to all areas of the site, the ability to observe & interact w/ all members, the freedom to move around & a way to balance the requirements of researcher & member. Page 3 of 7 SOC221 Week 8, Chapter 13  Limits on the Role Chosen: female researchers often have more difficulty when the setting is perceived as dangerous & wher
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