Ethnography

Supporting Observational Research

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 217-219) which is a qualitative methods text covering in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, ethnography, qualitative content analysis, case study, and narrative research.

An important element in the Total Quality Framework Analyzability component is Verification, i.e., taking steps to establish some level of support for the data gathered in order to move the researcher closer to achieving high quality outcomes. The verificationSupporting qualitative data tools at the ethnographer’s disposal go beyond those identified for the in-depth interview (IDI) and group discussion methods in that they include the technique of expanded observation. For example, Lincoln and Guba (1985) stated that it is “more likely that credible findings and interpretations” will come from ethnographic data with “prolonged engagement” in the field and “persistent observation” (p. 301). The former refers to spending adequate time at an observation site to experience the breadth of stimuli and activities relevant to the research, and the purpose of the latter (i.e., persistent observation) is “to identify those characteristics and elements in the situation that are most relevant to the problem or issue” (p. 304)—that is, to provide a depth of understanding of the “salient factors.” Both prolonged engagement and persistent observation speak to the idea of expanding observation in terms of time as well as diligence in exploring variables as they emerge in the observation. Although expanding observations in this way may be unrealistic due to the realities of deadlines and research funding, it is an important verification approach unique to ethnography. When practicable, it is recommended that researchers maximize the time allotted for observation and train observers to look for the unexpected or examine more closely seemingly minor occurrences or variables that may ultimately support (or contradict) the observer’s dominant understanding.

The ultimate usefulness of expanded observation is not unlike deviant or negative case analysis (see earlier link). In both instances, the goal is to identify and investigate observational events (or particular variables in these events) that defy explanation or otherwise contradict the general patterns or themes that appear to be emerging from the data. For example, a researcher conducting in-home nonparticipant observations of young mothers Read Full Text

Qualitative Design & Methods: 14 Selected Articles from 2019

Research Design Review is a blog first published in November 2009. RDR currently consists of more than 220 articles and has 650+ subscribers along Qualitative Research: Design & Methodswith nearly 780,000 views. As in recent years, many of the articles published in 2019 centered on qualitative research. This paper — “Qualitative Research: Design & Methods” — represents a compilation of 14 of these articles pertaining to qualitative research design (4 articles) and various methods (10 articles).

The articles on qualitative research design touch on basic yet important considerations when choosing a qualitative approach; specifically, the critical thinking skills required of the researcher to integrate quality principles in the research design, effectively derive meaning from the human experience, and understand the important role of reflexivity. The 10 articles on research methods covers focus group discussions (e.g., building rapport, the asynchronous mode), in-depth interviews (e.g., strengths and limitations, mitigating interviewer bias), case-centered and narrative research (e.g., a case study exploring communication with educators among working-class Latino parents in urban Los Angeles), and an ethnographic case study.

Ethnography: A Case Study in a Quality Approach

As discussed elsewhere in Research Design Review, the Total Quality Framework (TQF) is “a useful tool for qualitative researchers to apply in designing, conducting, and interpreting their research so that the studies are more likely to (a) gather high-quality data, (b) lead to more robust and valid social justiceinterpretations of the data, and (c) ultimately generate highly useful outcomes.” The basic research principles that underlie the TQF can be applied to various qualitative methods.

The following is an excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (pp. 227-229) which summarizes an ethnographic study conducted by Todd (2012) concerning religious network organizations and their association with social justice at the local community level. This case study exemplifies many of the principles supported by the TQF approach — illustrated by the clearly stated purpose, the stated justification for the chosen method, and the attention to quality-enhancing details throughout the study.

Purpose

Religious networking organizations are structured groups consisting of people from multiple religious congregations that meet regularly to discuss common interests. The primary purpose of this study was to examine how and why these organizations work for social justice in their local community and how religion is integrated into the organizations’ work in social justice.

Method

An ethnographic approach was considered appropriate because of the distinctive insight it could give into the organization members’ personal experiences, as well as the proven benefit of ethnography, by other researchers in community psychology, in identifying and understanding the storied lives of individuals and social processes within community-based environments.

Design

Credibility (Data Collection)

Scope

Two networking organizations were included in this study. Both organizations are located in the same Midwestern community. The researcher became aware of, and was introduced to, these organizations by way of contacts (gatekeepers) within the community. The researcher assumed the role of an overt participant observer, attending monthly 2-hour meetings at both organizations for approximately 1½ years. The ethnographer’s involvement Read Full Text