Tuesday, 5 March 2013

observation & acceptance

   This week’s readings on participant observation got me thinking about the means by which researchers gain acceptance in their subject communities. Knight, when discussing face to face interviews, explains how a researcher’s appearance affects the willingness of interviewees to participate and disclose information (Knight, 2002, p.54). Similarly, Luker states that the appearance of a researcher “telegraphs” important details about the researcher to the subjects of study, which in turn, can affect the subjects’ behaviour (Luker, 2008, p.178-179). Luker uses the example of a provocatively dressed woman interviewing a Morman Republican. Shaffir argues that appearance in ethnographic studies can be used strategically. He describes an ethnographic study he conducted of Orthodox Jews in which he regularly wore a yarmulke and attended religious ceremonies (Shaffir, 1999, p.682). Shaffir admits, despite his forthrightness about his reason for being in the community, there was still an element of deception, as members of the community began to believe he was part of their religious community (1999, p.682). Shaffir states that ethnographic research should be transparent and include discussions on the “messier” and more “ethically challenging” aspects of research (1999, p.685). I wonder if there is a need in ethnographic and participant observation research to include notes or perhaps pictures of researchers to get a sense of their appearance during data collection. In my limited exposure to ethnography I have found that information on how the researcher is dressed and the strategies the researcher uses to blend in are generally invisible. These are of course important elements that can be used to evaluate and understand a study.

Knight, P.T. (2002). Small-Scale Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Luker, K. (2008). Salsa dancing into the social sciences: Research in an age of info-glut. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Shaffir, W. (1999). Doing ethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 28(6), 676-686.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I had never thought of this before, but the readings do support this. I don't know if photos are necessary, but details on how the observer fit in to the group being studied should definitely be part of methodology sections. Thanks for pointing this out.
    - Nick Anapliotis