7400.685-080 - Research Methods in FCS
School of Family and Consumer Sciences
Spring Semesters - Tuesday Evenings 5:20-7:55pm in 209 Schrank Hall South
Instructor: David D. Witt, Ph.D.
Field Studies
Field Studies (field research) is "nonexperimental scientific inquiries aimed at discovering the relationships and interactions among sociological, psychological, and educational variables in real social structures or settings.  Such research is done "in the field" - observations are made in real time and in everyday life.  Researchers make every effort NOT to manipulate or influence that which is under study.  Field studies may require quantitative data gathering techniques in which elaborate counting methods are used or the method may rely only on narrative accounts of  a single observer or observers serving as eye witness(es) to events. 

Field studies are often initiated when very little is known about the individuals or groups under study.  Thus, the research questions to be answered with this method are going to necessarily be vague and general. The whole point of a field study is to learn enough to generate more specific, precise hypotheses.

It may be useful to think of the array of observational techiques as lying along a continuum:
Studies requiring Minimum Involvement with Subjects Studies requiring Maximum Involvement with Subjects
Structured observations taken from behind a mirror or using a hidden camera. Viewing previously recorded video tape or other data from such recordings. Settings - child development centers, audience studies, small groups, town hall meetings, any place where interaction is contained and viewable from a vantage point.
Ethnographic research in observations are made over an extended period of time. May require semi-permanent researcher residence (i.e., participant observation studies).  Settings -  small towns or villages, observations of individuals in wide array of settings and situation.

To better understand the world inhabited by urban gangs, investment bankers, university administration or other fringe groups, gaining entry into the "field" while being prepared to take healthy field notes is a good way to generally obtain insights that other methods might preclude.

Ethnography, a common type of field research method, should result in a description of a subculture and provide a broad understanding of a social group. Since any social group will reveal its subcultural disposition when the group is interacting in social contexts, a particularly fruitful way to record the group's beliefs and practices is to make observations of group members in interaction with each other and outside others. Mannerisms, parts of speech, slang use, actual behaviors, use of music and art, stated beliefs, unspoken folkways and norms - all these will, sooner or later, be displayed for observation.
The field researcher will either pose as one of the group or gain entry as a trusted person by having a member of the group sponsor their presence.

According to Neuman (1997), the field researcher role includes observing events and activities as they happen in natural settings by directly involving themselves with the individuals or groups being studied.  The research will be personally experiencing the action and interaction as it takes place, which helps for the acquisition of an insider's point of view.  The research must try to maintain objectivity, although loss of objectivity is one of the disadvantages of the method.  While the development of empathy for those under study, it is imperative that the researcher does not develop sympathy, at least while the study is taking place.

Data that is produced will be in the form of copiously extensive written notes, perhaps along iwth  drawings, diagrams, and other graphic data.   By viewing events in real time and in a natural setting, the researcher, who should also be somewhat of an expert in the anthropological view of culture, is in a good position for placing the "data" observed in a context - that is give it meaning to the interested reader.

Neuman (1997) offers practical advice to the researcher intent on using the method.
Adequate preparation for entry into a field situation requires a strong review of the literature, an ability to make observations without preconceived notions about the group. Once a field site is selected, obtaining a "pass" or a sponsor into the group on social grounds is important.  By their very nature, many groups are secretive and suspicious of strangers.  Therefore, the researcher has to be somewhat gregarious and friendly - most importantly innocuous and non-threatening.
In the course of field research it is possible that the researcher will establish social feelings for the members under observation, making "disengagement" difficult, and making objective analysis a task.

Taking field notes requires that the researcher uses her sensibilities and cognitive powers as measurement tools because the researcher is the instrument of observation.  As an intruder into an otherwise "naturallly" developing social situation, the researcher must minimize notice of her presence while accurately keeping a record of activities of those under study.  Thus the recording of sensory readings in field notes.  Keeping notes requires a level of organization and attention to detail. Here are some examples of field note entries:
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