As some readers may know I’ve been thinking about how to teach the “Ethnographic Research Methods” course that I’ll be teaching in the fall. Our textbook orders are now in and so I thought I’d share with you what I’ve decided to use — hopefully in the fall I can let you know how it went.
My goal in this course is really to focus on methods — on what, specifically, you do during fieldwork. I want to give students some tools so that they do not feel lost at sea when they arrive in the field. I want the tools to be hands-on, and not too specialized, since they will have to work in a variety of research conditions. Finally, while I don’t want to force students into a scientistic conception of fieldwork and methods if they have a more humanistic sense of what they are about, I at least want to give them the skills to Go There if they want to.
So, here is what I’ve ordered from the bookstore.
Analyzing Social Settings (Lofland, et al): I’ve mentioned this one before. It’s a symbolic-interactiony textbook. Frankly I think it is too expensive for its slender volume, but as a one-volume overview of the research process its the least of all possible evils. First, the bibliography is extensive and full of interesting case studies — so its a good place for students to start to explore their own ideas about fieldwork. It also has an opening chapter on how your own personal life leads you on to your research topic, which is a really important (and often undiscussed) thing to bring up. Finally, a major part of research as the authors describe it is ‘focusing’ research — moving beyond being ‘in’ the field and formulating some concrete ways to ‘do’ fieldwork. So yeah, a small light piece to take into the field.
Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes (Emerson, et al): Another ethnographic sociology book (notice the pattern here?). This is an industry-standard book that is very hands-on in describing how to write fieldnotes. It is also inexpensive, which is nice for students. Again, the focus is not critiquing the theory of fieldnotes, or discussions by people about how they feel on the inside about their fieldnotes. The issue is how to take them.
Learning From Strangers (Weiss): I think this has got to be the most common book on interviewing out there, and is used by a bintillion different disciplines and professions. Inexpensive, very hands on, includes examples of consent forms, interview guides, and even coded interviews. It has a lot of stuff that is not so central for anthropology (or the type I do anyway) or reflection on the complex dynamic of intersubejctivity when you interview but… screw it. It gives you a basic overview. And using this book means that students will be able to discuss interviewing intelligbly with people in other disciplines.
Doing Qualitative Research On Your Computer (Hahn): Ok. Coding fieldnotes is the area where anthropologists have Issues. Coding is often described as a special technique with special software, etc. This turns off anthropologists who are skeptical of the Power of Science, and even those who might be interested in gaining some coding chops get the sense that it requires special (read: expensive) software and extra training. A lot of the Anselm-Strauss inspired approaches feature textbooks that are in there 39th edition, have been over-edited, and can be vague and mystical.
I am betting on this book because 1) it teaches students that coding is a simple technical act, not a comple and intimidating methodological one 2) anything that will get people to read and parse their fieldnotes is a good thing 3) I forget that not all students can just figure out computers the way I can 4) the book come with templates for access and excel that will work for any office software, and tells you how to use them.
This is a new and pretty unusual book (there are a lot of instructions like “left click and choose’add table'”) but I am hoping it will help get students past issues of software choice, etc. etc. and get them to read their fieldnotes.
There are some usual books I’m skipping here — the ginormous Bernard volume on anthropological research methods (which now costs US$100!), Briggs’s excellent Learning How To Ask (which we will read), and some others. So it is an experiment, and I’d be interested in getting some feedback.