Ethnography

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

Ethnography: Mitigating Observer Bias

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 207-212).

In qualitative research, the researcher – including the in-depth interviewer, focus group moderator, coder in content Observationanalysis, and observer – is the instrument, meaning that the qualitative researcher wields substantial control in the design content, the gathering of data, the outcomes, and interpretation of the research.  Ethnography is no different in that the observer – albeit not controlling participants’ natural environment – plays a central role in creating the data for the study by way of recording observations.  In this respect, the credibility of an ethnographic study essentially rests on the observer’s ability to identify and record the relevant observations.

The necessary observer skills have been discussed elsewhere in Research Design Review – for example, “The Importance of Analytical Sensibilities to Observation in Ethnography.” Without these skills, an observer has the potential for biasing the data which in turn will negatively impact the analysis, interpretation, transferability, and ultimate usefulness of an ethnographic study.  The potential for bias exists regardless of observer role. An offsite, non-participant observer may knowingly or not impose subjective values on an observed event – e.g., ignoring certain comments the observer finds personally offensive in a study of an online forum discussing alcohol use – while an onsite observer, operating either overtly or covertly, may bias results by way of Read Full Text