QUALITATIVE FIELD RESEARCH
Topics Appropriate for Field Research
- Topics that defy simply quantification
- Attitudes and behaviors best understood in their natural setting
- Social processes are better understood over time in their natural setting
- Elements of Social Life Appropriate to Field Research
- Roles and Social Types
- Social and Personal Relationships
- Groups and Cliques
- Settlements and Habitats
- Social Worlds
- Subcultures and Lifestyles
Special Considerations in Qualitative Field Research
- Roles of the Observer
- Participant, Researcher, Observer
- Participant observation – participating in what you are studying while you are studying it
- Not all field researchers do this. You don’t have to participate in order to observe.
- Reactivity – The problem that the subjects of social research may react to the fact of being studied, thus altering their behavior from what it would have been normally.
- Relations to Subjects
- Objectivity – describes the researchers’ ability to draw conclusions based on facts rather than personal feelings or beliefs.
- Emic perspective – adopting the point of view of those being studied.
- Etic perspective – maintaining a distance from what is being studied to enhance objectivity.
- Reflexivity/awareness of bias – affects both researchers and subjects; describes how your own characteristics affect what you see/pay attention to and how you interpret it.
Some Qualitative Field Research Paradigms
- Grounded Theory
- Case Studies
- Institutional Ethnography
- Participatory Action Research
- Naturalism – An approach to field research based on the assumption that an objective social reality exists and can be observed and reported accurately.
- Ethnography – A report on social life that focuses on detailed and accurate description rather than explanation.
- Ethnomethodology – An approach to the study of social life that focuses on the discovery of implicit meanings.
- These are usually unspoken assumptions and agreements.
- Grounded Theory – an inductive approach to the study of social life that attempts to generate a theory from the constant comparing of unfolding observations.
Note that this differs significantly from traditional hypothesis testing, in which theory generates hypotheses which are then tested.
- Think conservatively
- Obtain multiple viewpoints
- Periodically step back and assess what you know
- Maintain an attitude of skepticism
- Follow the research procedures
- Case Studies – The in-depth examination of a single instance of some social phenomenon.
- Extended Case Method – A technique in which case study observations are used to discover flaws in and to improve existing social theories.
- Institutional Ethnography – A research technique in which the personal experiences of individuals are used to reveal power relationships and other characteristics of the institution within which they operate.
- Participatory Action Research – An approach to social research in which the people being studied are given control over the purpose and procedures of the research.
- Emancipatory Research – Research conducted for the purpose of benefiting disadvantaged groups.
Conducting Qualitative Field Research
- Preparing for the Field
- Be familiar with relevant research
- Discuss your plans with others in the area
- Identify and meet informants (when appropriate)
- First impressions are important
- Establish rapport (an open and trusting relationship)
- Ethical considerations
- Qualitative Interview – Contrasted with survey interviewing, the qualitative interview is based on a set of topics to be discussed in depth rather than based on the use of standardized questions.
- “Miner” or “Traveler” roles
- Stages in Complete Interviewing Process
- Focus Group – A group of subjects interviewed together, prompting a discussion.
- Advantages: real-life data, flexible, high degree of face validity, fast, inexpensive
- Disadvantages: not representative, little interviewer control, difficult analysis, interviewer/moderator skills, difficult logistically
- Recording Observations
- Take detailed notes, but balance with observations
- Rewrite notes with observations soon after observations with filled in details
- Record empirical observations and interpretations
- Record everything
- Anticipate observations
Strengths and Weaknesses of Qualitative Field Research
- Strengths of Qualitative Field Research
- Effective for studying subtle nuances in attitudes and behaviors and social processes over time
- Weaknesses of Qualitative Field Research
- No appropriate statistical analyses
- Ethical issues
- Greater validity than survey and experimental measurements
- Potential problems with reliability