There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to observe AU student-to-student dynamics. You could start with this research problem: Does AU offer any forums that help students develop friendships?
Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.
This week’s Study Dude sneaks a peek at the book Ethnography: Step-by-Step by David M. Fetterman. Fetterman’s long list of credentials shouldn’t scare you off; he looks at how to do practical ethnography: in other words, how to observe.
Some people make a living observing office cultures. Why not you?
The Low-Down on Ethnography
Ethnographers observe group dynamics.
In graduate studies, I set out to do an observation of a charity for people with disabilities. In spite of having a similar disability myself, when I arrived at the charity, hardly anyone recognized me. Incognito.
But what I observed shocked me. Most of the people with disabilities had their heads lowered, completely disenfranchised. Rarely did a staff member interact with them.
Instead, the focus rested on the staff members and one disabled employee. This disabled employee led a presentation. The staff laughed and cajoled with him, exchanging quips and comments. But the audience of people with disabilities sat silently, their heads hanging low, robbed of power. And I noticed that the people with disabilities got acknowledged only once by the staff: namely, when a request was made for cash donations.
My heart sank. At least ethnography has the ability to aid the downtrodden.
Fetterman provides an overview of what it means to do ethnography:
– When you do ethnography, you give a voice for the group you study. So, use lots of verbatim quotes. Strive to make your story fit with the actual experiences of the people you observe.
– Start your observations with a theory or a model.
– State your biases upfront and control for them so they don’t skew how you might report the observed group’s behaviors.
– Ethnography involves multiple interpretations. The best interpretations, however, consist of the ones that agree with the native group’s own perspectives.
– What does ethnography involve? Lots of notes. Lots of photos. Lots of audio and video recordings. Even online surveys.
Ethnography: The Theories
Ethnography gets fun when you link it to theories.
As you may recall from a prior Study Dude, I once pitched a film project to the National Film Board. The film would have been based on the ethnographic research of a favorite professors.
At that time, I faced the task of drafting up the script. So, in a rush, I read the prof’s entire self-authored textbook within three days. The book helped me learn about his prior research. But when I asked him what he might expect to find on his next ethnographic field study, he stared at me, clueless.
And he mentioned no guiding theory; instead, he referred me to several books he previously published. He also expressed regret that my proposed thesis topic had nothing to do with ethnography.
In the end, I didn’t go ahead with the project, although writing that script may have led to other film-related opportunities. But if I had to go back in time, I would have pressured him to reveal his pet theories. I might have linked his theoretical biases to a potential thesis topic.
Who knows? Maybe I would have fashioned myself into a documentary filmmaker?an untapped dream of mine.
So, what kinds of theories can you use in ethnography? Fetterman fills you in:
– You can use a feminist or a post-structuralist theory for ethnography if you wish. You can use most any theory that helps explain the group’s dynamics. don’t use a theory That’s grown crusty in the academic circles.
– Ethnography commonly takes up a phenomenological view (which allows for multiple interpretations or, in other words, a multicultural view).
– Phenomenology is typically inductive and may include a grounded theory study. Remember that grounded theory looks at emerging themes in the data. Grounded theorists stop seeking themes once their data starts repeating itself without any new insights (in other words, once the data becomes “saturated”).
– The positivist idea that there is a concrete objective reality gets pooh-poohed by ethnographers. So, avoid positivist views.
– You can use an ideational theory (that views change as stemming from thoughts and ideas) or a materialist theory (that views change as stemming from criticisms of money, resources, and industry). Marxism is a materialist theory; cognitive theory (whatever that is) is an ideational theory.
– Some other ideational theories include psychoanalysis, symbolic interactionism, and sociolinguistics.
– You can even use your very own personal theory to describe some sliver of the world. [As a disclaimer, you’ll ideally want to use theories that have at least one book published about them.]
So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.
Fetterman, David M. (2010). Ethnography: Step-by-Step. Los Angeles: Sage.