We do field research whenever we
observe and participate in social
behavior and seek to understand
social action and social situations
Source: Earl Babbie, The Practice of
Leads to a deeper and fuller
understanding of the phenomenon,
when we study it in its social context.
Helps researchers recognize nuances of
“attitudes and behaviors” the collectivity
of social interaction as opposed to
studying detached variables.
Helps study processes over time, when
taken together with the structure they
are linked to.
Elements of social life appropriate to Field Research (John
1. Social Practices: Talking
2. Episodes: Events like crime, illness, divorce.
3. Encounters: Meeting and interaction among people.
4. Roles and social types associated with those roles.
5. Small groups
6. Formal Organizations
7. Settlements and ‘habitats’- small scale ‘societies’
8. Social worlds of people
9. Subcultures and lifestyles
Field Research offers the distinct advantage of
studying social life in its ‘natural habitat.’
And capturing subtleties that might
otherwise be lost in laboratory type
Roles of the Observer
Complete observer to complete
Complete observer- researcher as Martian-
detached/separateness, objectivity is a benefit but
might miss insider understanding of phenomenon.
Pretending to be a genuine participant
Researcher as participant
Deception is unethical but is often done (with
debriefing at the end) for the sake of validity and
reliability, to minimize “reactivity”- i.e. the
subjects of social research might react to the fact
of being studied, thus altering their
Types of EXPLANATION
(from Idio meaning unique e.g. idiosyncrasy)
Seeks to explain a social event by an
exhaustive set of unique causes- seeks
total explanation, all causes
Seeks to explain a social event by
narrowing down causes to a few.
Reliability & Validity
Measurements should be
1. Reliable- consistency in
2. Valid- you are measuring what you
are supposed to measure.
Researchers Relations to the
Reflexivity- understanding based on
anticipation of effects before acting. Taking
on the “role” of the observed.
Research setting affects subjects responses
Being moved by the personal lives of the people you
Power and status separation between researcher and
subject (implicit assumptions about researcher
superiority need to be dropped)
Qualitative Field Research
Linked to the Chicago School, earliest
types of field research based on the
positivist assumption that reality is “out
there” and can be observed objectively
E.g. William Foote Whyte’s, Street Corner
Snow and Anderson (1987)
Ethnography: A study that focuses on
detailed and accurate description rather
than explanation, preferably from an
insiders point of view.
Ethnographic Fallacy (Mitchell Dunier, 1999)
Overgeneralization and oversimplification of the patterns
observed. Going beyond descriptive exploration.
Types of Ethnography
Virtual Ethnography: using ethnographic techniques for
inquiry into cyberspace.
Auto-Ethnography: an ethnography technique that uses the
researcher’s subjective experience to interpret data rather
than interpreting it from the p.o.v of the researched (elite
bias, given the social position of the researcher but may
involve greater authenticity).
2. Ethnomethodology (Harold Garfinkel)
Ethnomethodologists are skeptical about the
way people report their experience of reality.
People describe their world “as they make sense
Breaching Experiments: Experiments designed
to breach taken for granted norms of mundane
everyday interaction to note reactions of people.
Involves the researcher bracketing their
Ethnomethodologists believe that naturalists lose the
ability to understand the world if they use tools that are
part of the world’s ‘logic.’ Discovering the inner logic of
the world you study is more important.
Ethnographers want to discover the world of the
subjects from their point of view- how do the subjects
see their world
Ethnomethodologists want to uncover the
methodology the people use in order to make sense
of their world.
In order to do this ethnomethodologists
deliberately “breach” those rules in what they
term breaching experiments.
3. Grounded Theory Method
Barney Glasser and Anselm Strauss
Inductive Theory Building; building
theory from data, from an analysis of
patterns, themes and common
categories that are themselves
discovered in observational data.
Think comparatively, multiple
viewpoints, skepticism, follow procedures
involving comparison, sampling and
asking questions, and systematic coding.
Four Stages of the GTM
1. Comparing incidents applicable to each
category : specifying concepts; [concept of
social loss, reaction of nurses to the dying
2. Integrating categories and their
properties: what is the relationship
between concepts; additional variables
3. Delimiting the theory: as relationships
between concepts emerge, check which one
is relevant and which one is not; [what
cannot be considered as part of the
4. Writing the Theory
EXPLANATION IN QUALITATIVE
John & Lyn Lofland, six different ways for looking for patterns:
1. Frequency: How often does it happen
2. Magnitude: What is the level of it. How large
3. Structures: What are the different types of it
4. Processes: Is there any order among it
5. Causes: is the occurrence different among
6. Consequences: How does it affect other things
after it has occurred
Differences between Quantitative and Qualitative
Characteristic Quantitative Qualitative
Logic of theory Deductive Inductive
Direction of theory Begins from Begins from
construction theory “reality’’
Verification Takes place after Data generation,
theory construction analysis & theory
is completed verification take place
Concepts Defined before “Flexible” concepts -
research begins with orienting,
Generalizations Inductive generalizations Analytic, exemplar
(use of inferential generalizations - i.e.
statistics) or hypothetico- sample units can act as
deductive (use of typical representatives of
hypothesis testing) a class or group of
inadequacy of induction.
Robert Merton (1910-2003)- induction
presents a weak form of evidence
compared to deduction because facts that
fit into an explanation (positive evidence)
are not as strong as facts that fail to
negate an explanation (deduction) based
on falsification (Karl Popper 1902-1994)
4. Case Study and Extended
Case Study Method.
A case study focuses attention on a single instance
of a social phenomenon- cases need not be a place
or a group of people, it can also be a period of
Case researchers seek an in depth idiographic
understanding of the particular case under
Extended case study: discovering flaws in and
then improving existing theories, that are clearly
stated before the investigation in order to fill the
“gaps and silences” in theory
Cases cannot be generalized to the “whole”- have
limited use other than informing quantitative
research based on probability samples.
5. Institutional Ethnography
Originally developed by Dorothy Smith (1978) to
better understand women’s experiences by
discovering power relations that shape those
experiences: through discovering institutional
practices that shape these realities.
Discovering institutional power relations that
structure everyday experiences: linking the
micro-level world of experiences with the macro-
level world of institutions: the biography to the
structure, i.e. using your sociological
6. Participatory Action Research
The researcher’s function is to serve
as a change brining resource to those
being studied which are typically
The researcher works not only as a
means of knowledge but as
consciousness cultivator and helper in
mobilization for social change
Began with “third world” economic
An interaction between the interviewer and the
respondent in which the interviewer has a general
plan of inquiry.
In general, a qualitative interview is a
conversation in which the interviewer
establishes a general direction for the
conversation and pursues specific topics raised
by the respondent’s answers.
Listen more than talk. Show interest in the other
person but don’t let the conversation veer off
Seven Stages to complete the
interview process (Steinar Kvale
1. Thematizing- clarify the purpose of the interview.
2. Designing based on purpose of interview
5. Analyzing in terms of the themes in 1.
6. Verifying for reliability and validity
In a focus group 5 to 15 people are
brought together (typically) in a private
environment to engage in a guided
discussion of some topic.
A good way to generate substantive
questions for survey research (pre-
Some can be anticipated, others
emerge during the course of the field
Take as much detailed notes as you
can, even though most will be
‘wasted’ in the end.
Observing and recording are skills
that improve with practice.
Strengths and Weakness of
High on validity and forming
Low on reliability, generalization
success and uncovering causation.
Field Research involves going where
the “action” is and observing,
listening and recording.
Qualitative interviewing unlike surveys
involve detailed interaction of researcher
with interviewee, pay attention to non
verbal aspects of the response as well.
Mix observation/field research with the
interview not losing focus of the entire
surrounding ‘situation’: be reflexive,
think about the unsaid.
Semiotics- part of qualitative
The science of signs
Has to do with symbols and meanings
Commonly associated with content analysis
Semiotics is based on language but other
multiple sign systems e.g. mathematics,
Morse code etc exist.
Meaning is not intrinsic to the sign but
resides in the mind, that emerges as a
consequence of the ‘social situation’- link
between expression and content. Therefore
semiotics is a social science- agreed
meaning among a group about symbols and
signs and their socially desirable
In reading signs and their meanings
note the latent, i.e. hidden meanings,
Conversation Analysis (CA)
Conversation is a socially structured activity-
Part of ethnomethodology, that tries to
uncover the implicit assumptions and
structures in social life.
Simple example of structure: what do you do
when you talk? Take turns. Understand
contextually, analyze the pauses etc.
When an outsider enters a group he or she
breaches rules of conversation- note the
reactions during qualitative interviews they
are important part of the research
QUALITATIVE DATA PROCESSING
The process of converting raw data into
standarized form for the purpose of analyzing
your research problem.
It involves the logic of conceptualization that we
You have a choice in coding between generality
or depth (specificity) or both.
You can code the manifest content (the surface,
explicit content) and the latent or deeper
meaning that emerges from the patterns (latent
The “concept” is the organizing principle for qualitative
Manual coding- the file put code name on the tab and
the data that goes with it in the file or its location in
some other file.
Types of coding- from broad to specific
Open coding- break up data into discrete numbered
parts and examine similarities and differences.
Axial Coding- identify Core concepts that are central
to your study AFTER open coding, regrouping data
and looking for analytical concepts beyond open
Selective Coding- identifying THE central code in the
study that organizes or orders all the other concepts.
Negative case testing –Bruce Berg (a
technique for qualitative hypothesis
testing), so that the methodology can
proceed beyond mere positive pattern
formation and the pre-experimental
to an experimental/falsification based
Find the cases that contradict the
general pattern and studying them in
Writing memos and notes to yourself and
others during the qualitative project and
Code notes: code labels and their meanings
Theoretical notes: that go with various
Operational notes: methodological issues
Qualitative diagrams like some of the
ones handed out during the semester-
relationship between concepts presented
Visual portrayals help you summarize, think
and invent new relationships, can help data
collection in the future and organize your