One form of observation in social science research is participant observation, in which the researcher participates in the social phenomenon he or she is studying. This approach offers a number of advantages. One is that the researcher can describe the phenomenon from an insider′s perspective, even describe his or her own feelings and thoughts. Another advantage is that trying to be in the shoes of people being studied often reveals topics for further questions to ask them. What is more, potential interviewees are often more receptive to being interviewed if they know that the interviewer has this insider′s perspective, that the researcher has taken part in similar activities, and they might then open up to the researcher. For example, a researcher studying migrant workers can experience life trying to pick vegetables or fruit in harsh conditions. Fellow migrant workers might open up more to this researcher during the course of work, and the researcher might notice particular issues to ask about in interviewees, such as about the living quarters. Purpose and Overview The purpose of this project is for you to try participant observation and to make use of sociological concepts we cover this semester. You will practice observing a social setting that you are normally in and writing a field note report on your observations. The reasons that you observe a setting that you normally go to rather than a new setting, as is often done in participant observation, are to save you time, to take advantage of your pre-existing knowledge, and to encourage you to think about some aspect of your life from a sociological perspective. So as to fill in gaps in your knowledge about the setting or to give you differing perspectives, you might want to conduct one or two short semi-structured interviews. Possible Topics Pick a setting, preferably public, that you have already participated in at least a few times in recent months. It is OK, though, if you pick a setting that you are not normally part of, such as a special event. Students have done their projects on the following: interaction with their babies, coffee shops, gyms, bars, sports venues, co-ed sports, jobs (although you should take care about privacy issues), volunteering at an animal shelter, farmers market, grocery store, movie theater, interaction with pets, parent and baby classes, riding the bus, riding elevators, shopping mall, cafeteria, and so on. If you are having trouble picking a topic or are not sure if there are some ethical problems, please feel free to talk with me for advice. Submissions can vary a great deal depending to the nature of your topic and your interests. For instance, you might focus on detailed desсrіptions of one or two events that you observe or experience, or you might be more general about what happened over the course of your time. See the end of this for a student field note similar in length and desсrіption to the kinds of field note that you will submit. To give you some focus in your project, each of the following themes must be addressed in your submission: Themes 1. the setting and how it possibly influences the behavior of people 2. social types (the kinds of people) in the setting and differing perceptions and conflict(s) 3. A. a comparison, such as to a similar setting OR B. the impact of history and social structures on what goes on in your setting Final report guidelines and suggestions Your paper should be between two and four pages, double-spaced, typed in 12-point font. For most people, around three pages will probably be fine. Suggested structure: 1. Introduction—you could organize your focus in various ways, such as by using the field note themes, applying a theory or claims made in course readings, or applying a theory or claims you have developed on your own or encountered in another social science course. Be sure to determine some way to organize your discussion, such as comparison/contrast, chronological, straight argument, macro to micro or micro to macro level analysis. A common approach to the introduction is to use a vignette from your field notes. 2. Methods—how observed, such as time spent in setting(s) and way you took notes. Other data collected, such as from interviews. 3. The setting—location and physical desсrіption. This could be combined with introduction or methods section. 4. Findings/discussion—Within your structure, I suggest that you weave in this kind of organization: a paragraph that states a claim with explanatory information, a paragraph or paragraphs that provide detailed illustrations of the claim (adapted from your field notes), and then a paragraph that ties to the next claim, such as by modifying the illustrations through exceptions. 5. Evaluation of your methods—how you could have improved your participant observation techniques and other methods that might better address issues you raise. Participant Observation Project Field Notes: Example of place and types of people Below is field note submission from a previous student who did her project on a Madison bar. Monday night is “Panic Bootleg Night” at the Up North Saloon… live recordings of Widespread Panic shows are played over the bar’s sound system. This attracts a mix of college-age Widespread Panic fans as well as a handful of “regulars” who I will describe at a later point. When I arrive with my roommate, only 6 people are in the bar (3 male, 3 female) plus a bartender (slender female in mid 20’s, leans over the wooden bar and rests head on folded arms as she watches the Game Show Network on a TV mounted across from the bar); she tries to guess the answers out loud to the 1980’s game show; takes out a container of cubed pepper jack cheese from behind the bar and eats a piece, puts container away only to remove it seconds later and take another piece. All visitors to the bar are paired up, male and female… everyone looks to be in their mid 20’s, all sitting around the bar, most have one elbow on bar, a drink in front of them, smoking a cigarette slowly and talking to the person next to them. I feel out of place because I’m scribbling in a little notebook in my lap, not talking to anyone. My roommate sitting next to me chats with a college-age man next to her, they don’t try to involve me in the conversation. Set-up of the seating around the bar is not conducive to conversation between more than two people, partially because stools are lined up in a row (also, stools are wide and heavy, w/seat-backs, serving to spatially separate customers from one another…stools unwieldy, difficult to rearrange in a setup more conducive to conversing as a group. Plus, arranging them in a circle would block the path that people typically walk when they cross from one side of the bar to another.) I take a seat next to an African American man in his late 20’s that I see often at the Up North. He is an acquaintance—I know his first name but he doesn’t know mine (I’ll call him “George”). We chat on and off, sipping our drinks. I alternate between conversing with him and with my roommate, who is sitting on the other side of me, but cannot hear George due to the setup of the barstools. George tells me that he is working as a chef at an upscale steakhouse in town, but is moving to the Virgin Islands. He continues to tell me about himself, and I begin to doubt the truthfulness of what he’s telling me. He says that he used to be a wrestler in when he attended high school in the Madison area, and that he used to take acid (LSD) before every match and was undefeated. I express disbelief, but he assures me that he is being honest. He says that after high school he joined the Marine Corps in order to “gain some discipline.” I wonder whether I can write about his drug use for my participant observation, and contemplate extricating myself from the conversation. To my relief, another acquaintance of mine (“Carl”) approached George. Carl is another “regular” at the Up North; for a couple years he used to play the banjo in the bar on Tuesday nights before the guitar player that accompanied him moved out of town. Carl is a young white male with long, stringy black hair and dark facial hair. He has a soft voice that I often find inaudible, so I take the opportunity to tune out of the conversation and observe my surroundings. There are about 10 other people present, most sitting on stools around the bar, a couple at a table sitting in chairs. As I look down the bar, everyone has a Bloody Mary in front of them (the “bloody” is an Up North specialty drink served in a pint glass complete with olives, pickled artichokes, pickled mushrooms, cubes of pepper jack cheese, and a pickle with an optional beer “chaser” in a small glass… the drink costs about $5.25, but the price varies depending on the bartender and his or her mood). I’ve heard the ambiance of the Up North described as “a slice of the north woods” and “a taxidermist’s dream.” The walls, floor, bar, and tables are wooden, and there are two artificial tree trunks, stretching almost from floor to ceiling, whose branches and pine needles are adorned with white Christmas lights. Because of the low lighting in the bar, in my two and a half years as somewhat of a “regular,” I never noticed the varied and sometimes eccentric collection of items mounted on the ceiling (a chandelier encased in antlers, 150-200 beer taps, a fly fishing rod with a plastic spider, antique meat-grinders), and on the walls (several deer heads—one of which wears a blond wig, neon and antique-looking beer signs, at least 10 different clocks–all of which display different times, an antique telephone, a “Wanted” poster for Osama Bin Laden). I get the impression that ever the owners of the Up North are not entirely familiar with everything that embellishes the interior—I was told that last year a friend of mine placed a hubcap that he found in the parking lot on top of one of the speakers inside the Up North, and it remains there to this day.
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