Up A Quiz for Chapter 7

Chapter 7:  Qualitative Methods:

Ethnography, Participant Observation, and Fieldwork

Chapter Outline

Outline Concepts
  1. The Role of Ethnography, Participant Observation, and Fieldwork Studies in Communication Research  

          --As ethnographic research has become increasingly
            popular, the language of the method has become
            very encompassing. In a traditional sense, ethnography
           emphasized the ethno part of its name. In fact, the word
           “ethnography” is a combination of two terms meaning
           “portrait of a people.” It was originally developed in
           anthropology asa method to describe people of different
           cultures” (Hancock, 2002, p. 4). Spradely (1979) defined
           it as “the work of describing a culture. The essential core
           of this activity aims to understand another way of life from
           the native point of view” (p. 3). As used in this book,
           ethnography involves an extended participation with
           groups of people being studied.

         --ethnography often has been combined with other methods
           of inquiry

A.   The Purposes of Ethnography and Participant
Observation Methods

--Participant observation methods are
characterized by the attempt to use
nonintrusive ways to gather information.

            --Three major purposes:

1.  Ethnographies try to answer questions in
settings where use of questionnaires and
direct reports would be inappropriate or

2.  Ethnography or fieldwork is often
undertaken when a setting has been so

unexplored that formal hypotheses may
not have been developed.

3.  These studies are completed by researchers who
wish to develop grounded theory.


fieldwork:  study of people acting in the natural courses of their daily lives.  The fieldworker ventures into the worlds of others to learn firsthand about how they live, how they talk and behave, and what captivates and distresses them.

naturalistic studies: nonexperimental inquires completed as participants are involved in the natural course of their lives

participant observation: fieldwork in which researchers study groups by gaining membership or close relationships with them

ethnography: research in which the investigator participates, overtly or covertly, in people’s lives for an extended period of time, collecting whatever data are available to describe behavior.


--Through a process of analytic induction, researchers start with very tentative hypotheses
that they apply in fieldwork. If these hypotheses are inadequate, they may be abandoned or reformulated. Eventually, a theory may emerge.                                           


analytic induction: “An approach in qualitative research that develops theory by examining a small number of cases. Theory then leads to formulation of [a very tentative] hypothesis, which is tested through the study of more cases. This usually leads to refinement or reformulation of the hypothesis, which is then tested with further cases until the researcher judges that the inquiry can be concluded” (Vogt, 2005, p. 10).

B.   Suitability of Ethnography and Participant
Observation Methods to Research Questions

--questions involve naturally arising behavior

               not consistently produced in laboratories

            --guidelines for selection of this approach:

               when the research problem question deals

               with:  fields in which naturally occurring

               communication phenomena exist;  when

               the phenomena occur within a relatively

               limited area and time

            --Since “Qualitative research is concerned

with finding the answers to questions
which begin with: why? how? in what
way? [Hancock, 2002, p. 2],” exploring
such research questions gives rise to such
fundamental concerns as: why people
behave the way they do, how opinions
and attitudes are formed, how people are
affected by the events that go on around
them, and how and why cultures have
developed in the way they have.

--Ethnographies are not about a sole
person, but they are restricted to people
“under investigation [who] have
something in common.

--Ethnographers drawn a distinction
between to approaches to interpreting
information obtained in a study.


1.  The emic approach focuses attention on interpreting the study’s obtained information from the perspective of a member of the group or culture being studied.

emic approach: “Culturally relative approaches . . . that stress participants’ understanding of their own culture. member of the group or culture. Derived, by an indirect route, from the linguistic term phonemic” (Vogt, 2005, p. 105).

2.  The etic approach to research is that of the outsider who views the situation with some distance that may place perspective on what is observed. The ethnographer is usually encouraged to avoid potential misinterpretations by returning “to the field to check his interpretations with informants thereby validating the data before
presenting the findings” (Hancock, 2002, p. 5).

II.  Forms of Ethnography and Participant Observation Studies

A.   The Position of the Observer

2.  etic approach: “Methods of study . . . stressing material—rather than cultural—explanations for social and cultural phenomena. Derived, by an indirect route, from the linguistic term phonetic
(Vogt, 2005, p. 109).


1.  Full Participant Observation                             
--The invasion of others’ privacy by full participant
  observers is an obvious objection that may not
  have a satisfactory defense. In addition,
  concealing the researcher’s identity has been
  charged with introducing “false and hypocritical
  interpersonal relationships between the actual
  participants and the participant observers” (Fox,
 1969, p. 513).

full participant observationa role in ethnography or participant observation research characterized by the researcher's gathering data while taking part in the activities of a group—and while concealing one's research identity


  2.  Participant as Observer

participant as observer studies: a role in ethnography or participant observation research characterized by the investigator’s gathering data while taking part in the activities of a group—and after making his or her research identity known to the group.

 3.  Balancing Involvement

 --with complete involvement:  (1)

    interpretations become subjective; (2)

    researcher shares sympathy for the group
    studied; (3) researcher is involved in
    communication; (4) researcher usually enters
    research setting in "disguise" involving some


                  --with complete observation: researchers tend to
                     be: (1) objective; (2) unsympathetic; (3)
                     detached; (4) candid

                  --observational studies                                     

·  complete observer inquiry:  research in which

  the observer has no contact with the

  individuals observed


 ·  unobtrustive measurement

unobtrusive measurement:  using artifacts that do not influence the behavior being studied
--accretions:  deposits of material left by some action
--urban archaeology:  examination of artifacts that are leftovers of
  urban activity

--erosions:  evidence of the wear or use of objects

     B.  Ethnography and Ethnomethodology    

--ethnomethodology (sometimes called “the new ethnography”) occasionally is used  as though it were interchangeable with ethnography. Yet, it actually attempts to find patterns to explain the implicit rules or guidelines that people use to  make sense of
exchanges with each other

ethnomethodology: (also called “the new ethnography,” originally developed by anthropologists to study societies of humans) an approach (rather than a  rigorous method) in which researchers find an ethnic group, live within it, and attempt to develop insight into the culture; emphasis is placed on the mundane and ordinary activities of everyday life, concentrating on the methods used by people to report their commonsense practical actions to others in acceptable rational terms.

III.  Ethnography and Participant Observation

A.   A Philosophic Foundation

1.  Review: qualitative studies typically
attempt to examine details of cases,
and quantitative methods typically
attempt to examine variables across
numbers of cases.


  --other qualitative-naturalistic methods:


life history:  the autobiography of a person obtained through interview and guided conversation

time budgeting studies:  inquiries to determine how individuals are using their time

community studies:  study of a whole community of people, usually a small town or village, or possibly part of a larger town

case studies:  intensive inquiries about single events , people, or social units

--negative case study:  attempts to obtain a case that has the
  potential to negate a generally accepted view

 2.   Ethnography of Communication:

--Dell Hymes suggested that that “the starting point is the ethnographic analysis of the communication
conduct of a community” (1974, p. 9).


The speech community consists of the people who have a common  system of speech to bind them  together.

speech community: “a set of people with a common language, or who share a repertoire of varieties (accents, styles, even languages in multilingualism); people who live together and interact through language; people with shared social attributes (young people, lawyers, women); people in the same social system. The term is most relevant to small well-defined, stable communities” (Bothamley, 1993, p. 499).

--Additional units in the ethnography
of communication include:

a.  The speech situation or occasion that influences whether people actively communicate with each other.

speech situation: “situations associated with (or marked by the absence of) speech (Hymes)” (Malcolm, 2001, ¶ 71).


b. The speech event is the
   communication encounter
   involving messages.

speech event: “the basic unit for the analysis of verbal interaction in speech communities; it covers stretches of utterances and focuses on the exchange between speakers; . . . speech events are cognitive phenomena that play an essential part in managing and interpreting everyday communications (Gumperz)” (Malcolm, 2001, ¶ 67).

c.  The communicative acts are
     the specific components or
     details of the speech event

communicative act: “the minimal term of the speech event (Hymes) utterances considered in terms of what they do and how we use them in conversation” (Malcolm, 2001, ¶ 70).

d.  The communicative style is one’s typical use of verbal and nonverbal language, especially when engaged in communication with specific groups of people.

communicative style: “linguistic differences according to the formality of the interaction (which depends on such factors as the social occasion, the social, age and other differences of the

participants, the emotional involvement, etc.)” (Malcolm, 2001, ¶ 30).

e.  Ways of speaking include following a group’s unwritten rules of conduct.

--This approach is based on the presumption that communication not only is a tool of culture, but is a key to help discover cultural meanings.

2.  Steps in Conducting the Study

Ethnographic studies are completed by
steps that often overlap and cycle back
and forth. The entire method has a fluid quality about it, though a protocol has established some clear phases in the research.

ways of speaking: “rule-governed patterns of communicative behaviour communication within a speech community (Hymes)” (Malcolm, 2001, ¶ 72).

                 a.   Selecting a Position for the Researcher

research positions: the stances that researchers take to the objectives for research (ventriloquizing other’s interests, giving voice to silenced groups, engaging direct activism).

1.) The ventriloquist stance that merely transmits information in an effort toward neutrality and is absent of a political or rhetorical stance.

2.) The positionality of voices is where the subjects themselves are the focus, and their voices carry forward indigenous meaning and experiences that are in opposition to dominant
discourses and practices.

3.) The activism stance in which the ethnographer takes a clear position in intervening on hegemonic practices and serves as an advocate in exposing the material effects to marginalized
locations while offering alternatives.


                        4.)  Postcritical ethnography

postcritical ethnography: a research position in which researchers include a critique of the ways in which their own experiences studying groups of people in an ethnographic project may contribute to domination of the groups under study.

b.   Selecting Settings and Cases

            c.   Getting into the Setting

            d.   Sampling within the Case (Selecting
the Types of Behaviors to Monitor)

1.)  questions asked to isolate key
behavior: what type of behavior is
it?  what is its structure?  how
frequent is it?  what are its
causes?  what are its processes?  

what are its consequences?  what
are people's strategies?

2.)  Categories:

The categories for analysis of
different speech events may be
organized according to the
memory device formed by the
word “S-P-E-A-K-I-N-G.” These
categories identify the elements

that ethnographers should cover

to complete a thorough analysis
(Milburn, 2006c, ¶¶ 2–9):


                        S.  Situation, which includes both the
                                    scene and the setting

situation: in Hymes’ (1974) "ethnography of communication approach” “the time and place of a speech act and, in general, the physical circumstances” and the scene.

                              P:  Participants involved participants: in Hymes’ (1974) “ethnography of communication” approach, typically including “speaker or sender; addressor; hearer, or receiver, or audience; addressee.”

E:  Ends or goals of communication


ends: in Hymes’ (1974) “ethnography of communication” approach, the purposes including outcomes (“the expected outcome of a speech event as recognized by the speech community”) and goals (“the intentions of participants and the strategies they define”).

                              A   Acts or speech acts

acts: in Hymes’ (1974) “ethnography of communication” approach, message elements including message form (“how something is said by members in a given speech community and according to the descriptive characteristics”) and message content (“topic and change of topic”).

                              K    Key including the tone of speech

key: in Hymes’ (1974) “ethnography of communication” approach, “tone, manner, or spirit of a speech act (e.g. seriousness, sarcasm, etc.).”

                              I     Instrumentality including the
                                    channel through which
                                    communication flows can be

instrumentality: in Hymes’ (1974) “ethnography of communication” approach, the channels (“the medium of transmission [e.g. oral, written, visual, etc.]”) and forms of speech (“the different languages, dialects, varieties, and registers used in a speech event/act; may be joined with channels as means or agencies of speaking”).

N   Norms or rules guiding talk and its interpretation can reveal meaning


norms: in Hymes’ (1974) “ethnography of communication” approach, the norms of interaction (“rules governing speaking”) and norms of interpretation: (“the belief system of a community and how that interacts with the frame of references for understanding utterances”).

G   Genres or the use of cultural  or traditional speech genres


genres: in Hymes’ (1974) “ethnography of communication” approach, the “categories of speech (e.g., poem, myth, tale, proverb, riddle, curse, prayer, oration, lectures, etc.); though often coincidental with speech event, genres must be treated as analytically independent.”

           e.   Keeping Records and Observations

                  --sift sound reports from others by asking:
                     is the report firsthand? where was the
                     observer?  did the participant have a
                     reason to give false or biased
                     information? is the report internally
                     consistent? can the report be validated
                     by other independent reports?

                  1.)  fieldnotes:

keeping useful fieldnotes may require
some training; to be useful fieldnotes
must be organized; field
it is vital for
researchers to write their fieldnotes
“as soon as possible after leaving the fieldsite, immediately if possible. Even

though we may not think so when we are participating and observing, we are all very likely to forget important details unless we write them down very quickly” (Hall, 2005, ¶ 2).


                        2.)  Qualitative Interviews

qualitative interview:  an unstructured interview method aimed toward discussing topics in depth


paraphrasing: in interviews, summarizing the interviewee’s message in one’s own words, usually to check understanding.

--repetition as a question: stating the previous comment in question form (e.g., Interviewee: I suspected my father was ill. Interviewer: You suspected he was ill?)

--request: directly soliciting information (Interviewer: Tell me more.)

--acquiring meaning: requests for definitions (e.g., Interviewee: My father went off on me? Interviewer: What do you mean when you say he “went off on you?”)

--repetition of a key word or phrase:
implicit requests for explanations
created by emphasizing something
that was previously said (e.g.,

Interviewee: I was afraid that my
father might become violent?
Interviewer: Violent.)

--Asking for an example: requesting
details or instances (e.g., Interviewee: In our family, my father liked to be in charge. Interviewer: Could you give me an example?)

--Encouraging comments: statements that suggest how interesting the conversation is (e.g., “That’s really

                  f.    Interpretive Analysis of Data

interpretive approach:  identifies communicators' interactions to determine such things as the situations in which people find themselves, the structures within which they work, and the practical features of their world.

     g.   Exiting the Field Setting

      B.   Limitations of the Approach

            --limits: (1) time consuming and expensive;

               (2) tends to rest on unreliable measurement;

               (3) researchers may become overidentified

               with the group; (4) cannot reach

               comprehensive conclusions alone

III.  Qualitative Research in Action


      A.  Grounded Theory
 --a method to discover theory from data


grounded theory: a set of explanations that has immediate relevance to a specific field setting under investigation. Participant observers attempt to discover categories to describe their observations after they have entered the field. Then, researchers make additional observations to refine and modify these categories and potentially develop theory.

1.   The Stages of Grounded Theory

       a.  Stage 1: state the research
       problem and identify a 

             location where it could be

       In this initial stage of theory-
       free exploration, this process

Coding: in grounded theory, “the process of deciding how to conceptually divide up raw qualitative data” (Lacey & Luff, 2001, p. 34).

                           is known as open coding because no

                           initial categories exist to guide
--guidelines for open coding:
                             (1) ask the data a specific and  
                             categories. consistent set of questions;
                             (2) analyze the data minutely; (3)                             frequently interrupt the coding to write a

open coding: in grounded theory, “initial familiarisation with the data” (Lacey & Luff, 2001, p. 7) with no initial Categories.


                             theoretic note called a memo; and (4)
                             never assume the
analytic relevance of
                             any traditional variables such as age,
                             sex, or socioeconomic status



memo: in grounded theory, a note the researcher makes about the meaning of a category or property, or about possible relationships among categories.

                           --reliance on theoretic sensitivity

theoretical sensitivity: the ability “to see the research situation and its associated data in new ways, and to explore the data’s potential for developing theory” (Strauss & Corbin, 1990, p. 44).

b.    Stage 2: develop initial categories
 and use theoretically based sampling

c.    Stage 3: repeated checks against


                         data; then theory revisions

constant comparative method: in grounded theory, “concepts or categories emerging from one stage of the data analysis are compared with concepts emerging from the next. The researcher looks for relationships between these concepts and categories, by constantly comparing them, to form the basis of the emerging theory” (Lacey & Luff, 2001. p. 7).

      --This revision process
         involves elaborating on
         relationships and
         categories of the emerging

d.   Stage 4: after the observation of
 inconsistent or negative cases begins
 to wane, the process of grounded
 theory produces a set of vital
 categories and a grounded theory

elaboration: in grounded theory, “elaboration involves developing and examining its variation systematically” (Punch, 2005, p. 214).


       --At this point, returning to the field has
    reached a level of theoretical saturation,
where the field data produce only trivial
    amounts of significant categories or
    concepts are new information.

2.   Limitations of grounded theory:

a.   The notion that one can set aside all
theory and make an initial set of
observations of raw phenomena is
generally considered to be naïve.

b.   an advantage of grounded theory—that it strives for verification—may, in fact, be inconsistent with the goals of much qualitative research in a postmodern world

c.   the reiterative effort to identify
categories so that they include all possible examples of behavior to be coded strikes some as searching for a general set of terms that then may be forced on data, rather than helping to explain it.

d.  many researchers who claim to use
grounded theory stop after developing categories.

theoretical saturation: in grounded theory, the point at which “no new significant categories or concepts are emerging” (Lacey & Luff, 2001. p. 7)

B.  Focus Group Survey
--purposes:  to gather preliminary information; to
  help develop questionnaire items; to understand

        a  particular phenomenon; to test preliminary

        ideas or plans of interest
1.  The Focus Group Method

a.   Assembling the Groups

--not random samples, but specific

characteristic groups; recommended size from 6-12;  more than one group
is typical

focus group:  an interview style designed for small groups . . . focus group interviews are either guided or unguided discussions addressing a particular topic of relevance to the group and the researcher


                  b.   Preparing Study Mechanics
 c.   Preparing Focus Group Session

                        Materials and Questions

                        --use of the presession questionnaire 

                           to increase willingness to speak

                  d.   Conducting the Session

questions not restricted to the
moderator's guide; moderator's
exercise skill to deal with different
sorts of people; hosting single or
many meetings varies

                  e.   Analyzing Data and Preparing a
Summary Report

            2.   Focus Group Advantages

      a.   flexible;

      b.   very helpful in pilot studies;

      c.   promote frank and honest sharing

            of ideas

            3.   Focus Group Disadvantages

      a.  cannot generalize results from

            one focus group to an entire


      b.  focus groups are only as good as

            the ability of the moderator

      c.  as a result of group discussion,

            many sets of reasons and comments

            tend to become more and more


telefocus session:  focus group sessions completed by teleconferencing methods over the telephone

C.  Autoethnography
The researcher is the same person as the person supplying the information

autoethnography:  a combination of “autobiography, the story of one’s own life, with ethnography, the study of a particular social group” (Dyer, 2006b, ¶1)

1.   Autoethnography has been the object of criticism:

a.   some claim that it is “at the boundaries of disciplinary practices” (Sparkes, 2000, p. 21).

b.   Coffey (1999) warned that unless they are very careful,
autoethnographers are “in danger of gross self-indulgence” (p. 132).

c.   Since the story of the events is completely in the hands of the storyteller, there is no test against competing claims of knowledge (see criticism by Denzin & Lincoln, 2000; Sparkes, 2000).

d.   Researchers sometimes have difficulty when the autoethnographer fails to identify his or her own biases and
orientations before getting into the work. As an alternative, a research team led by Morse (2002) suggested that after-the-fact “evaluation checks on reliability and validity should be replaced with relevant descriptions as part of a set of “constructive” techniques.

2.   Autoethnography requirements requirements to be considered serious research::

a.   Autoethnography should include accounts that link at least two cultures or groups (Dyer, 2006b, ¶ 7). Autoethnography is not a “what I did on my summer vacation” essay.

b.  The autoethnographer “does not adopt the ‘objective outsider’ convention of writing common to traditional ethnography.” (Reed-Danahay, 1997, ¶ 6).

c.   Autoethnography should not confuse itself with autobiography, in which the focus is on the individual person, rather than on the cultural grouping. If researchers wish to analyze their positions within their cultures, the task demands autobiography. Yet, if researchers wish to understand “their society and issues surrounding them” (Dyer, 2006a, ¶3), ethnographic tools would seem invited.

d.    Since the raw materials for autoethnography are personally derived, a sound autoethnography should include examples of dialog, descriptions of emotions and feelings, and culture-based stories that are affected by such elements as social structures and common histories (Ellis & Bochner, 2000).

e.  The autoethnography should make a substantive contribution, rather than simply promote the individual’s self-discovery

f.   The autoethnography should be written with aesthetic merit.

g.  The autoethnography should address the subject with reflexivity—with attention to what led the researcher to complete the autoethnography and deal with subjectivity as a “producer and product of the text.”

h.  The autoethnography should have  impact—the effect of the autoethnography on readers (emotionally and intellectually) and the heuristic merit of the work for other researchers.

i.   The autoethnography should convey an expression of reality—use of dramatic recall, vivid language, typical metaphors to create a sense of lived experience for the reader of the autoethnography.