(participant) observation

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(participant)observation This assignment asks you design, conduct and write up a small-scale ethnography. This exercise is intended to help you gain experience with the chief methods, strategies and ideas employed in the ethnographic tradition that we have been discussing. These methods always require a period of intense observation, or participant-observation, and so I would like your mini-ethnography to incorporate observation as its starting point. In order to more fully capture your initial observations, you will need to keep a set of notes taken in the field followed by post-observation analysis of these field notes. Drawing on these notes, you will compose your ethnography. How to approach this assignment: 1. Context. Find a setting, environment or event that you are interested in learning more about. It may be a setting to which you already have access, or which you experience on a regular basis and would like to know more about (e.g., a protest, your neighborhood subway stop, a barber shop, chess players in Union Square). 2. Ethics. Consider your impact on the environment. Is the setting a public space which does not require you to inform people that they are being observed? How might you inform people that they are part of a research project? Consider how to maintain anonymity. 3. Assumptions. Try not to prove pre-existing theories you have about the context and activities happening (and then see how hard this is!). Remember that an ethnographer’s research questions should arise in the process of observation, as do answers to research questions. !). I want you to write about and become aware of these pre-existing assumptions, how they might have affected your perception of the people and events, how they may alter your interactions. Remember our discussion on positionality and reflexivity. 4. Time. While I don’t want to make static time requirements for this assignment, the concept of ‘intense observation’ should connote more than one or two hours of observation. The time you spend on this project really depends on what you are examining. If you are studying how people position their bodies in elevators, then you’ll only have a few minutes of elevator riding time per day, for example. Alternatively, you could study behaviors in a cafe or classroom for an hour at a time. It really depends. The point is to become aware of both the environmental constraints of your observation and the significant role that time plays in ethnographic research. Guidelines for ‘looking’: 1. Observers try to uncover and record the unspoken common sense assumptions of the group that they are studying. Look for immediate and local meanings which appear to matter to the people you are observing. 2. Draw. Field notes should be more than writing; drawing maps and sketching activities is often very useful when trying to remember the details of what you have seen. Include notes about body language, environment, and noise. What is going on around this context that may be shaping it? 3. Reflect on your own actions. As we’ve discussed, ethnographers alter their environments and are thus themselves altered, even as they attempt to fit into their contexts as unobtrusive observers and as participant observers. How much do you have to adapt yourself in order to learn about the context and culture that you are studying? 4. Try to find emic (insider) categories and terms that the participants themselves use. How do these emic concepts organize the activities that you are observing? 5. Systematically look for discrepant cases or anomalies. If most people seem to be doing an activity the same way, notice who does it differently. What seems to be going on here? 6. Try various kinds of observation. Be a silent observer one time, and talk to people the next (if relevant). 7. If you are interested in critical/feminist approaches to research, consider how power is located in the practices you are observing. Writing it up: As you are observing, you should take notes (handwritten) and keep these to hand in with the assignment. After each period of observation, you should spend at least 15 minutes examining your notes, and then writing at least a paragraph of metalevel observations. In other words, what have you noticed about what you noticed? Go through these steps systematically each time you engage in observation. This should include your discussion of point #3 under “guidelines for ‘looking'”, and it should include any ‘findings’ that you believe you have found. What did your observation yield? How did these relate to any assumptions you had about the context? What might be the next step in a research project that would carry on with the particular context that you observed? What other methods might you turn to next in order to probe the context further? 2. include scanned or typed versions of 1) your notes from the field and 2) postfield notes (analysis of your field notes and meta-level observations)

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