In this chapter, we focus on field research for qualitative study, concentrating on complete participant and participant-as-observer roles. We discuss how researchers
select their topics, identify and gain access to their subjects, establish relationships, and record their observations. We also consider how field researchers
develop grounded theory based on their data using the process of analytic induction. Finally, we consider the ethical and political dilemmas of field research.
Based upon their reading and careful consideration of Chapter 12, students should:
1. Be able to discuss the principal differences between qualitative and quantitative research. 2. Understand the distinction between “complete participant” and
“participant as observer” in terms of participant observation techniques. 3. Understand and be able to list the steps involved in the practice of field research. 4.
Be able to describe the theory of field research. 5. Understand and be able to discuss the ethical and political issues of fieldwork.
As a method of data collection and analysis, qualitative research derives from the Verstehen tradition described in Chapter 1. Qualitative researchers attempt to
understand behavior and institutions by getting to know well the persons involved, their values, rituals, symbols, beliefs, and emotions.
Field research is the central strategy of data collection associated with qualitative methodology; fieldwork is characterized by its location and by the manner in
which it is conducted.
The method of data collection most closely associated with contemporary field research is participant observation: the process in which investigators attempt to attain
some kind of
Chapter 12 Notes
membership in or close attachment to the group they wish to study. A complete participant role means that the observer is wholly concealed; the research objectives
are unknown to the observed, and the researcher attempts to become a member of the group under observation. The complete participant role poses a number of
methodological problems, and therefore, contemporary field workers most often assume the participant as observer role, wherein the researcher’s presence is known to
the group under investigation; this role also differs from complete participation in that the research goal is explicitly identified.
The Practice of Field Research
The first step in doing field research is to select a subject for investigation. Then the investigator must select an appropriate research site and obtain access.
Once this is accomplished, the central aspect of fieldwork presents itself: establishing relationships with those under observation. Once relationships with members
of the group have been established, the participant observer is regarded as a provisional member of the group. The social complexity of field research is not limited
to gaining access and establishing relationships. Leaving the field is no less problematic; this stage depends upon the agreement reached between the observer and the
observed at the entrance phase and on the kind of social relationships that developed during the research process. In field research, the primary sources of data
are what people say and do. Data analysis in qualitative field research is an ongoing process; observers formulate hypotheses and note important themes throughout
their studies. Once researchers have identified actions and statements that support their emerging hypotheses, their next step is to look for negative cases–
instances that refute the hypotheses. When analyzing qualitative data, it is useful to look for certain regularities, or patterns, that emerge from the numerous
observations made during the fieldwork stage. The culmination of the study is writing the report.
Data analysis can be enhanced by using computers. Software programs can speed up analysis and facilitate the coding process and also simplify the preparation of the
final research report.
The Theory of Field Research
The goal of field research is to develop a theory that is “grounded,” or close and directly relevant to the particular setting under study. Using the “grounded
theory” approach, the researcher first develops conceptual categories from the data, and then makes new observations in order to clarify and elaborate these
categories. An alternative theoretical approach to field research is the method of analytic induction, in which analysis begins by generating a tentative hypothesis
explaining the phenomenon observed, and then an attempt is made to verify the hypothesis by observing a small number of cases.
Blue-Collar Community: An Example of Field Research
Chapter 12 Notes
Kornblum’s investigation of a South Chicago community is an excellent example of a field study employing participant observation as the main method of analysis.
Ethical and Political Issues of Fieldwork
Unlike other methods of social research, fieldwork is characterized by long term and intimate participation in the daily life of those being studied, and hence it is
associated with a number of ethical, legal, and political dilemmas. There are two kinds of ethical issues associated with fieldwork: the problem of potential
deception and the impact the fieldwork may have on the lives of those under study.
To assist you in familiarizing yourself with the Key Terms, imagine a series of “short answer”questions that ask you to define each term in your own words, using the
text’s discussion as a guide.
analytic induction (268) complete participant (258) field research (257) grounded theory (268) informant (264) negative case (267) participant as observer (260)
participant observation (257)
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