Saturday, September 26, 2009

Paul's Questions for 9/28

1) I like the idea of an insider’s perspective when conducting observational research. In fact, for our project, that’s exactly what I’ve done. My observation of a high school football game put me in a setting in which I routinely belong. But while my presence is routine, I believe other participants may be more fully involved, such as coaches, band directors, players, etc. As a band parent, I’m trying to determine if I fall under the “active membership role” or “complete membership role,” detailed on Page 85 of our first reading this week. At first I thought it was the latter, but now I’m not so sure. Which is it?

2) In the Denzin and Lincoln reading where they discuss studies of the public realm, Cahill’s (1987) role in observation is described as a process where the team “continually reorganized and reviewed [their] field notes in order to discover common patterns, uncover general themes, and evaluate emerging hypotheses.” With that in mind, I wonder how narrow or broad of a focus one should have before initiating an observation in the public realm?

3) Ellis’ auto-observation approach, according to Denzin and Lincoln, offers a great way to get at core meanings and experiences, and complements more formal observational concerns that emphasize structure over content. But I’m also concerned about the ethics of auto-observation. Let’s say that I’m describing my work environment, and keep the names of others out of the report, yet describe their tasks and/or roles. With only a little digging on the part of the reader, don’t I run the risk of identifying them because it’s clear that they work with me? This is briefly addressed later in the reading, but not clearly enough for me.

4) In terms of the flexible research strategy discussed in our second reading on page 226-227, observing over an extended period is only possible if the ethnographer adapts to situational circumstances through the “art of fieldwork” as described by Wolcott in 1995. Various methods are described here and elsewhere in the reading, but what about the tools needed in certain situations? Should the effective ethnographer always carry a recorder or camera with him, for instance, to capture an unplanned or unexpected moment, which may not replicate itself? Or even when flexibility is embraced, should it be accomplished without these tools? Should you simply take in the moment, and then summarize it in writing later? And how much later is too late?

5) Meaning-creation and the author’s subjectivity when writing and reporting ethnographic findings is an aspect of our reading that I can relate to based on the observation Alex and I undertook at a high school football game. As I told him, I already had a preconceived notion about how various groups act in such situations. My concern is that I was looking for what I already expected, and therefore missed other group nuances. Was what I observed truly representative of what was going on? How much of my past opinion must I describe in the reporting of this recent encounter? Clearly, having at least two people involved in the observation will help validate similar findings, and perhaps discount those that I simply “saw” based on my past experiences, right?

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