Is Ethnography a Suitable Method for Research on Residential Satisfaction and Community Participation

Topics: Research, Scientific method, Sociology Pages: 8 (2352 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Is Ethnography a Suitable method for Research on Residential Satisfaction and Community Participation. Ethnography within its wider field of research is described as the study of people’s behaviour in terms of social contexts, with emphasis on interaction in everyday situations (Lindsay, 1997). It is further defined as research that constitutes the art and science of describing a group or culture (Fetterman, 1989). However, the specific definition that will be used throughout this work, is that of its role within qualitative research, which is summarised by Wainwright (1997) in his paper in The Qualitative Report, stating that ethnography can be distinguished as: “...the attempt to obtain an in-depth understanding of the meanings and ‘definitions of the situation’ presented by informants, rather than the quantitative ‘measurement’ of their characteristics or behaviour” pp1. The technique of ethnography is a holistic approach, in order to achieve a complete and comprehensive picture of a social group (Fetterman, 1989). There are two main techniques within ethnography, that is firstly, interviews, and secondly, observational methods of participant and non-participant forms (Goetz and LeCompte, 1984; Hammersley, 1990; Lindsay, 1997; Wainwright, 1997). This discussion aims to analyse ethnography as a method of qualitative research and discuss its usefulness in a research question based around residential satisfaction and community participation. This will be achieved by analysing the main advantages and disadvantages of both methods of ethnography; that of interviews and observation techniques, with a holistic approach. Hereafter, assessment of the direct usefulness of the method relating explicitly to the two research variables of residential satisfaction and community participation. An overall critique summary and conclusion will follow this, on ethnography’s context and suitability in such a study. The first form of ethnographic research is interviews. These are where a respondent is asked a number of questions by the interviewer, and the interviewer records the answers. Interviews can be of the in depth conversational type, which are like guided conversations, where the interviewer converses with the respondent; or the second type, which is a semi-structured interview in a format similar to an oral questionnaire. There is also a immense range of varying techniques within both of these forms, an example being closed or open ended questions (Lindsay, 1997; Wainwright, 1997). When comparing the advantages of interviews with the method of observational research, it is obvious that interviews are far cheaper and much faster in generating data, being able to be completed in an hour or so. Hence, respondent numbers are usually higher than a research based upon observational techniques (Haralambos, 1986). Interviews also have the advantage of enabling the interviewer to examine quite complex issues, in a great depth of understanding as the interviewer is actually asking the respondent and receiving specific answers. Answers are available to compare with the interviewers personal observations, rather than just having simply observations (Hammersley, 1990; Hammersley, 1992). The main disadvantages of interviews is the problem of ‘interviewer bias’ where the interviewer influences and directs the answer given by the respondent by his presence, or inadequate interviewing skills, in the fact that particular answers may be expected and this may transmit to the respondent and influence his or her reply (Haralambos, 1986; Lindsay, 1997). Additionally, difficulties also arise from the effect that discussions are artificial situations, especially when comparing this method with observational techniques. Respondents frequently tell researchers what they think they want to hear, and also what might be more acceptable than what actually goes on or is true (Lindsay, 1997). Another disadvantage of interviews as a...

Bibliography: Fetterman, D.M. (1989) Ethnography: Step by Step: Applied Social Research Methods Series Volume 17, Sage Publications, London. Goetz, J.P. and LeCompte, M.D. (1984) Ethnography and Qualitative Design in Educational Research, Academic press Inc., London. Hammersley, M. (1990) Classroom Ethnography: empirical and methodological essays, Open University Press, Buckingham. Hammersley, M. (1992) What’s wrong with Ethnography?, 3rd edition, Routeledge, London. Haralambos, M. (1986) Sociology: a new approach, Causeway Books, London. Lindsay, J.M. (1997) Techniques in Human Geography, Routeledge, London. Wainwright, D. (1997) Can Sociological Research Be Quantitative, Critical and Valid?, The Quantitative Report, Vol. 3, No.2, July 1997, Nova South Eastern University, School of Social Systematic Studies, on line:
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