Week 4 Update: Ethnography Assignment Reflection

Thank you, Cathy Kroll, for writing me detailed feedback for my Ethnography Assignment. This gives me a perfect time to reflect (and a perfect excuse for a blog entry). Rather than becoming more aware of others, I became acutely aware of myself. Ethnographic observation is difficult. It’s real time and fast moving. We are photographers, […]

Thank you, Cathy Kroll, for writing me detailed feedback for my Ethnography Assignment. This gives me a perfect time to reflect (and a perfect excuse for a blog entry). Rather than becoming more aware of others, I became acutely aware of myself. Ethnographic observation is difficult. It’s real time and fast moving. We are photographers, posed to capture the golden moments at a gathering, but those moments — all happening simultaneously — get framed seconds too late, captured too blurry. And while the imperfect moments are still perfect in their own right, I could have observed it better. That’s why I fell so heavily into my own training and mode of thinking at the Flamingo. I observed age since age is what made me the fish-out-of-water. I gravitated toward the dance floor rather than the bar or the tables. I made no mental notes about the band; their clothes, their movements and their use of space were invisible to me. Yet the singles (those who were not blending) caught my attention. My own cognitive biases glared at me when I sat to write. Dr. Kroll’s feedback helped me see that I can leave these insecurities behind. Rather, I should suspend my fear of tarnishing objectivity and take my observations further — explore the why. I need to ask questions and pose answers about my subjects’ motivations. I only started at observation; I didn’t analyze. Despite those shortcomings, my assignment was a success. But I know it wouldn’t have been as much of a success if I had walked in with no previous experience. Just about the entirety of my job experience fed into my finished Ethnographic Assignment.

My previous training:

  • Before I was a literature MA student, I was a creative writing student at SFSU, focusing in creative nonfiction. Surprise?
  • After I received my BA in creative writing, I worked as a blogger for a software marketing company in Silicon Valley. There, I learned that (readable) blogs need…
    • Lists
    • Frequent headers
    • Short-short paragraphs …All of this I use in this blog.
  • When I chose to move back to Santa Rosa, I began a career in web development, where I met amazing designers who taught me how to find great royalty-free photography (hence, these spectacular header images).
I feel that, without my experiences leading up to this point, my trip to the Flamingo would have turned into a drastically different piece, despite our reading. That’s the scary part of this work. And that’s where I am determined to break out of my mold and grow.

Week 3: Ethnography and WordPress

We went to the movies the other night at the theatre where the Silver Scream Festival will be held. There were ads everywhere for it. I’m excited to attend. I had emailed their info team earlier and have been invited to volunteer for the event, so this will be a fun thing to be a … Continue reading Week 3: Ethnography and WordPress

We went to the movies the other night at the theatre where the Silver Scream Festival will be held. There were ads everywhere for it. I’m excited to attend. I had emailed their info team earlier and have been invited to volunteer for the event, so this will be a fun thing to be a part of. I’m curious about what kind of crowd the event will attract. I haven’t yet been able to do much research on the event other than checking out their website, but it seems like it has been going on for a while. It seems to be based in Los Angeles, so I’m not sure how long the event has been going on up here at the Roxy. I was also told they would be able to set up interviews with a few people, so that will also be fun. I need to get some questions together. A few famous guest speakers including the original Freddy, Robert Englund, will be making an appearance. I hope we get to meet them! The ethnography assignment was fun. I enjoy people watching, and this was a good excuse to really observe people engaged in a particular activity.  I found interesting parallels in this assignment and the readings we did recently, particularly the Mardi Gras experiment where it was observed that people did not really engage with those outside of their groups. Of course, there was the usual polite discourse, but not much more than that. People tend to keep to themselves and avoid interactions when they’re at the gym. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone. There are those who are more friendly than others and will go out of their way to exchange pleasantries with those in their immediate environment. I feel like our group is very busy with other things at the moment, as interactions between blogs is pretty much not there … yet.  I would like to comment more on everyone’s assignment, but have been stretched for time. Hopefully this weekend I’ll be able to sit down and do that. I did get around to fixing up my blog a bit more to reflect my own personality. It took a while to pick out a theme that wasn’t too busy, inappropriate or downright unwieldy to handle. I’m hoping this theme makes it easy to navigate through my entries. All in all, the course has made me more aware of groups of people and gatherings around town. There are quite a few festivals going on this spring, and I’m looking forward to attending a few of them.  

Through the Halls

Place: First floor hallway, Prothro-Yeager Humanities building on Midwestern State University campus Time: 10 minute intervals between classes Purpose: To observe student behavior and interactions in this small isolated environment Taken as a group, many older adults view college students as a homogenous group – young, like-minded, modern, talkative, and often silly.  Watching a particular […]

Place: First floor hallway, Prothro-Yeager Humanities building on Midwestern State University campus Time: 10 minute intervals between classes Purpose: To observe student behavior and interactions in this small isolated environment Taken as a group, many older adults view college students as a homogenous group – young, like-minded, modern, talkative, and often silly.  Watching a particular hallway in the Prothro-Yeager Humanities building on the campus of Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas disproves and yet, also proves a few of these assumptions to be true.  With a short ten-minute interval between class ending and starting times, it could be expected that students might be rushing from and to their required places, however, most seemed unconcerned with time, or for that matter, space. This hallway in particular is a short hall of only four classrooms; however it is also a corridor to the main hallway through the building. At least a hundred individuals tread this hallway during the ten-minute timeframe observed, making it busier than many streets in the town.  Out of this number of people, it is surprising how few actually communicate with each other.  While groups do develop within the hall (more on that later), most passing through barely acknowledge the presence of others in their environment.  Listening to headphones attached to a number of different electronic devices, many walk along unhindered by personal contact with the world around them.  Though unconnected with the “real world” around them, most glide through the crowd without causing even a ripple from their entrance and exit.  They seem like ethereal spirits merely visiting the scene. Other individuals, not on headphones, walk along steadily while gazing at the floor itself or at some distant point unseen by others.  They avoid eye contact with any single individual, but watch intently ahead while maneuvering the crowded hallway for openings and passages. Some appear to be withdrawn, studying internally on some heavy mental burden requiring all their concentration.  Most are completely unobtrusive, but will occasionally notice another and hold open a door, step aside to allow someone passage or meekly smile at a passerby.  They may, however, suddenly notice a group of their immediate peers and screech to a halt to form a grouping in the center of traffic. These groupings can be fascinating to watch.  Varied by reason for the grouping, they do seem to most often form by race, nationality, or ethnicity.  They form from the crowd in an instant and halt progress of traffic immediately in their vicinity.  A single person standing on the side of the hall may be joined by two or more students suddenly, and then the flow of traffic becomes a log jam.  All those not invited into the grouping must stop, change direction, back-track, or otherwise get out of the way.  These groupings form in such delighted conversation upon meeting that those around them may feel ashamed at either wanting them to continue or at not being able to be a part of the group.  Either reasoning prevents anyone in the surrounding area from expressing resentment at the obstruction and all simply select other paths. Differences occur in the execution of the between class dance based on class time and day of the week.  Mondays bring fewer students – especially to early classes – and more interaction.  Students appear to notice each other more , open doors to let others through ahead of them, and speak – yes, actually say “hello” to each other.  Could this be caused by spending time away from academia over the weekend,, being among family (such as moms who remind them of their manners), or the effect of fewer students battling through the same area?  It would be very interesting to spend more time in different locations over several days and class change times to compare and contrast the activity by class subject areas – business vs. humanities or engineering – and services available in the building – just hallways vs. a building with a coffee shop.

The Art of Prep: Training the Mind for Research

Knowing that I don’t have a backup plan, I sent an email to my festival of choice, asking if they are willing to participate. I was unsure to ask ((Would this be jumping the gun?)), but I did anyway, just to know whether my subject is interested. Now solidly in week four of the class, […]

Knowing that I don’t have a backup plan, I sent an email to my festival of choice, asking if they are willing to participate. I was unsure to ask ((Would this be jumping the gun?)), but I did anyway, just to know whether my subject is interested. Now solidly in week four of the class, I feel . . . odd. This class is perhaps the strangest I have ever taken, given our diversity of backgrounds. Here. Let me explain. Things that make me feel odd:
  • Calling myself a scientist. As a grad student in a literature MA program, I have not once thought of my craft as scientific. Reading literature is an emotional task, and we are rarely asked to separate our feelings from our research. Analyzing literature is commonly accepted as a subjective art. But in this class, we discuss minimizing the subjective, putting our ‘self’ away to further understand our subject’s reality through his or her own eyes. It’s strange to me. I’ve never been ‘scientific’ in any of my practices.
  • Being on the West Coast. I have lived in the SF Bay Area my whole life, and I am embedded in my own culture. My father has always told me I “live in a bubble,” and I don’t fight it. Reading Cracker Circuit and other various articles connected to the south, I am aware I am relating only through the imagination, whereas my peers might have some personal experience.
  • Being Unsure In General. I have a small idea of the finished product: interviews, archival material, and transcripts. But somehow, with the reading and the deep exploration of ethnography, I feel thrown off. The articles show there’s far more to it, yet at the same time, I have conducted, transcribed, and approved audio-recorded interviews before. I have worked at the Office of Institutional Research, where I learned the immense importance of unbiased questions. Perhaps I’m just psyching myself out.
My current plan is to get a confirmed interest (or disinterest) in my festival of my choice, so I can launch into research and questions. Considering my subject is at an Orthodox Church, I see no harm in earning trust by going to services and getting a sense for their spirit, similar to what I had done for my ethnography assignment. As the semester progresses, I hope to be able to call myself a scientist.

Alpha Delta Pi Love

(I hope it is alright that I’ve copied and pasted my ethnographic response below.)

I hated every moment leading up to tonight. It’s Monday night and I was planning on spending precious hours with a sea of over-sized t-shirts and pearl earrings. Or, so I thought.

Upon entering Peabody Auditorium, I was greeted with A-line dresses, Michael Kors and bouncy curls piled a million miles high. They actually take this seriously.

Even though, out of the hundreds of ADPi girls that I have met, been in group projects and classes with, shared mutual friends with and given school tours to, I have met a grand total of one GC&SU ADPi girl that I like, a solid half of the packed auditorium formally greeted with me with compliments on my shoes and haircut–kind ways of inquiry about my existence, my being in their space. I was really hoping that they would ignore me, but I realized that that was impossible in this space. It was all about BEING there. I saw selfies taken in celebration of just BEING than I’d ever care to quantify. It was simultaneously the most superficial and exciting space I have occupied all night.

The greetings were sweet but formulaic–almost forced. Very stereo-typically “Bless your heart” Southern. During the first twenty minutes of chapter, I observed the ladies caption selfies and talk about what they got their ‘little’ for Valentine’s Day, engaging in the world’s most passive aggressive competition. Between arrival and the call to order, the ladies formed small “pods” and talked about school, dis-satisfactory homecoming results, and weekend escapades.

Over the roar of laughs and audible eye rolls, we heard a “LADIES!” A small blonde had scurried to the front of the room, folder in hand, and began to recite obviously familiar words. A chorus of young women joined. Now, I am a little fuzzy on the specifics of what she said, but I vividly remember the reactions across the room. Some looked as if this was the highlight of their week, gesticulating as each word was the most important. Others didn’t. But they all said it THE EXACT SAME WAY.

I found this to be both peculiar and hilarious.

What was once was a group of girls seemingly divided by hair color and interest in being there, almost instantly became a homogeneous glee club. It wasn’t like a class saying the pledge of allegiance, it was…scary.

I went into tonight thinking that I could openly see disconfirming information regarding my presuppositions and accept it, but that was terrifying. It doesn’t help that there was an unreasonable lack of economic, cultural and racial diversity–statistically, the least of all sororities, but that wasn’t what stunned me. It was like they were in a trance. Then, just as quickly as it set in, the trance lifted and I saw individuals again.

The small blonde young woman in the front happily welcomed the ladies to chapter, made a few tasteful jokes and a funny feeling came over me.

I liked her.

She wasn’t what I had seen in countless others. She was weird and goofy. Like me. Granted, I immediately recognized that she was rare in this crowd due to the collective sigh from her audience, but she was being herself among imposed sameness.

Something that I’ve always seen among sororities and fraternities, as well as any other gigantic social organization, is this subscription to an ideal. The need to fit a box. A way of talking. A way of dressing. A way of interacting. The need to be desired. The need to be exclusive. Generally, a negative perception.

The small blonde girl at the front of the auditorium wasn’t any of that. If I had to guess, I’d say that she didn’t join for the stigma, she joined for the sisterhood, the service–what all of those jumbled words from before were supposed to mean.

Then, in the next few minutes, I began to see. I saw that, though some girls emanated all of the elitism that I’d been on the other side of so many times before,  there were also those that were just sitting there. They are a part of a club and they participate and go to the meetings. Just like me. There is something there that they believe in and that’s why they continue to go. The fringe nonsense probably doesn’t consume them the way it does others.

As the evening progressed and I began to, of those that were vocal, understand and discern the redeeming folk from those that furthered my bias, my presence in the shadows of Peabody of the auditorium was quickly losing its charm. I became somewhat of a hindrance. The half of the room that hadn’t greeted me, along with the ones that had, shot me a plethora of stares, all making it clear that I needed to have left five minutes ago. A girl with perfect eye makeup sauntered up to me to inform me with a rigid smile that they thought Delta Gamma, a new sorority on campus, was still accepting girls.

They didn’t want me there.

I was mad. Not just because I had already asked their adviser if it was okay for me to be there, but also because she thought I wanted to be a part of them. She wouldn’t just let me sit in the recesses of Peabody and just do my assignment. She had to accuse me of wanting to join. Accuse ME. ACCUSE me. I was offended. Just as I began to understand, I shut down.

Though I fight daily on this campus for a more inclusive and understanding learning and socializing environment, I have a propensity to stigmatize that which I do not understand or that to which I am not invited. I imagine this is how any person with any prejudices feels. Though it’s human, it’s also the most harmful kind of prejudice. The “Us Versus Them” mentality, might not always result in visible catastrophe, but, when accepted as fact in any way, can do real damage to you and the subject of your bias. I don’t know if I caused any harm tonight, but my indignant exit, muttering how right I was before coming here, was definitely a little unnecessary. I’ll never be right. When it comes to constructed bias, none of us will.

A night at the bowling alley

Village Bowl is the last remaining bowling alley in town.  The alley has been open over 60 years.  The building is rather small and has 16 lanes.  There is a snack bar and a small arcade with video games.  This is league night and the house is full.  Most week days there a bowling leagues and the house is packed to over flowing.

The participants range from old to young.  From experience to new bowlers.  The range of attire is vast.  From polo shirts and slacks to baggy shorts.  There are a few teams that take this very serious.  They even have matching bowling shirts.  The more experience bowlers seem to walk with an air of confidence.  Balls are on the counter being cleaned and polished.

As the games begin you begin to see the many personalities come to life.  Some are quiet and reserved when they do good or bad.  Others are very animated, weather it is a good shot or bad.  Many are drinking and just plain having fun.  Others are very serious and to the point.  For some they only interact with those on their lanes.  While others walk lane to lane and have fun. 

 

 

 

FIELD NOTES

On Feb 9th I visited the Village Bowling Alley.  I spent 1 hour watching and observing.

This was a league night and the Alley was full.  There are 16 lanes with 4 people to a lane.  So there were 64 people in the league and at least another 20 watching.

When I first arrived people had just started to show up.

One of the first thing one noticed it the variety in age and class. 

There are people ranging from 24 to 79.

There are bowlers ranging from 100 avg to 225 avg.

Everyone is friendly and talking and having fun.

As you look around you can see the many rituals being performed in preparation for the league.

Many have bags full of balls while many others have lockers and their balls stay at the ally.

There are many styles of dress.  The older bowlers seem to be dressed in collars and slacks or jeans.

The younger bowlers are wearing baggy shorts and lose t-shirts.

Many are just getting off work and are rushing to the snack bar for dinner.

As the games start you begin to see the different rituals among bowlers.

Some just grab the ball and throw.  Some are very deliberate in their approach and throw

For many this is a just a chance to hang out with friends and drink beer.

As you walk up and down the lanes the scene changes from lane to lane. 

On one a man is real upset because his game is not going as he thought it should.  He is storming around and mad at himself.  The thing is he just bowled a 200 game but is upset.

On the lane next to him is a girl that is super excited.  She just bowled a 123.

One thing you learn is that each person has an idea as to what they should bowl. 

Bowling is really a game of competing with one’s self and this becomes very evident. 

One of the rituals between bowlers is when every someone bowls a strike or spare everyone slaps their hands and says good job.

But if you listen close you can hear someone say man I wish he would miss just once.

The hierarchies are played out in the tenth frame.  As the games come to an end the better bowlers are expect to come through for their teams.

 

The strengths of this kind of observation are that people tend to be more them self’s if they are not aware they are being watched.  To me the weakness is the lack of connection.  I am a people person and like to be part of the action.  You do tend to get more true information and can see people at their natural state.  At the same time being apart from the action you also lose the intimacy of the moment.

This method of observation was a little hard for me at first.  I had at first tried another location and did not get the information I needed.  I felt out of touch with the scene and could not connect.  When I switch to the bowling alley I had much better results.  I went on a night when I was not bowling and could just set back and watch.  I still knew some of the people there but was left to watch and learn.  I bowl in a league on another night and have been for several years.  It was fascinating watching all the different actions instead of being part of it.

In doing this kind of research I do not really see any ethical issue.  As an observer you are just taking notes of the actions you see.  You are not taking names and naming people and the things they are doing.  You are just a bystander and recording what you see. If doing this research included taking pictures and finding out names, then posting those without consent.  Then I would see and ethical issue.  As this research did not include that information I believe it is fine.

The data I gathered on this observation was tremendous. I was able to see the scene in a different way than I have before.  I did try a different location first and was not able to get much information.  This may have been because I was disconnected form the location.  I myself felt out of place.  With the bowling alley I felt at home.  I could move around at the bowling alley and no one really thought anything of it.  At the previous location I was seen as an outsider.  People tended to avoid me and made observing very difficult. 

If tasked to do this assignment again I would approach it a little differently.  I believe I would look more at the underlying scene.   This my first attempt at such research and I was not sure of just what to look for.  Now that I have completed this assignment I can see where I could have changed my approach.  I would try a different location and try to connect.  Or if I stayed at the same location I would attempt to look deeper into the actions.  I would try to get into the heads of the participants and what they were thinking more. 

By Dale Ralston

 

Ethnography Assignment #1: Larkfield Anytime Fitness

I chose the Anytime Fitness center in the Larkfield shopping center for my ethnography assignment.  Larkfield-Wikiup is a quiet, rural-ish, unincorporated town located about five miles north of Santa Rosa, CA. It boasts a population of approximately 9,000 people,  consisting of mostly white, middle-class households (79.3% to be exact, according to the US Census Bureau.) … Continue reading Ethnography Assignment #1: Larkfield Anytime Fitness

I chose the Anytime Fitness center in the Larkfield shopping center for my ethnography assignment.  Larkfield-Wikiup is a quiet, rural-ish, unincorporated town located about five miles north of Santa Rosa, CA. It boasts a population of approximately 9,000 people,  consisting of mostly white, middle-class households (79.3% to be exact, according to the US Census Bureau.) The average income for those living in the area is $74,076 per year, and the average home is worth $414,500. This particular Anytime Fitness is a small, privately-owned franchise that collects monthly dues of approximately $50 per member.  The facility itself is small and limited, consisting of exercise equipment, weight machines, a free weight area, and a dance studio as well as a staff office and restrooms. There are no pool facilities. The entire gym nestles neatly into a one-room corner lot in a shopping mall that includes a local supermarket and a community bank. It’s a cozy place, one where you might think everyone should know each other on a first-name basis considering how small the town is. Initial observations tell me differently.  At nine’o clock in the morning, the place is not crowded. There are maybe ten people here working out, along with a couple of staffers lounging around in the office. Roughly half of these are female. 90 percent of the occupants are white. Occupants appear to occupy a wide range of age groups and fitness levels. They seem to be working out solitary and separate from their neighbors.  There seems to be a protective space around each person, for everyone is at least one machine away from the next person, or occupying a private area away from others. Most people are wearing earbuds, which seems to further discourage conversation from others.  The treadmills and striders are more popular with older people, women and those less in shape. The back of the gym, where the weight machines and free weights are, is occupied by young men, who are often wearing grip gloves, sweat bands and earbuds. Most people are wearing appropriate exercise gear.  One person immediately stands out from the others. He is a painfully skinny man who working by himself with free weights in front of a mirror. I notice his appearance is striking and awkward.  He’s wearing a bright orange zipper sweatshirt with a black tee shirt underneath, white baggy shorts that come down to his knee with bright red biker pants underneath, gray socks and brown leather shoes that don’t seem to belong in a gym.  He has a brown beanie that is askew on his head, half-revealing a shaven head although he has well-groomed, hipster-style sideburns. He’s wearing aviator style sunglasses. He reminds me of Hunter Thompson as portrayed by Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  He appears oblivious of everything around him and focuses on his stretching. Nobody else seems to notice me standing by the cubby area with my notebook except for an older, heavyset man wearing a headband who is laboring away on a strider.  He is alert and looks around at everyone, including me, as if he is wondering if anyone is watching him.  I head over to the treadmill so that I can continue my observations without making it obvious.  I notice an abandoned plastic Starbucks coffee cup in the cupholder of the center treadmill and avoid it.  Looking around, I see more of these abandoned beverages, mostly in the form of plastic water bottles.  They are especially prevalent around the cubby area where people store their belongings. More members enter and exit.  The office area how has several staffers milling around, many holding paper cups containing coffee.  This area is where the most interaction takes place.  An elderly woman walks in pulling a rolling overstuffed backpack behind her. She looks like she is dressed for a day of shopping. She’s wearing a long brown overcoat, jeans, a fancy red turtleneck, a white scarf, brown high-tops and a white wide-brimmed hat.  She takes off her overcoat and heads over to the exercise machines. I turn my attention back to the Hunter Thompson look-alike.  He is now sitting at a table vigorously shaking a Venti Starbucks cup before drinking from it. He also has a gallon of Arrowhead water, which he leaves on the table as he disappears into the restroom area. A few minutes later, he reappears, sans white shorts.  The red biker pants reveal everything as he heads back towards the mirror and sits cross-legged in what appears to be a meditation pose. A young man interrupts his reverie by asking him a question, pointing to a machine behind him. He nods and re-settles back into his pose.  An older lady with a stylish blunt haircut strides happily on a machine.  Walking past her, I see her level is set on 16, and that she has been working out for more than 30 minutes now.  The clock inches towards ten o’clock and I make my way to the cubby area to collect my items and discreetly write down my thoughts.  The office area is now abuzz with several staff members ranging from a youthful, pretty blonde, a tall, heavily-bearded young guy, and an older, stern-looking brunette woman.  I leave the building.

Questions:

What are the strengths and weaknesses of this method of observation? How have you experienced these strengths and weaknesses in regard to this particular setting?

This particular gym is rather small and private, and there are not many places to sit and observe.  I think I would not be able to do this unobtrusively and would need to blend in by working out alongside the members so that their behavior will not be influenced by a feeling they are being watched.

What strengths and weaknesses do you possess for conducting this kind of research in this type of setting?

I’m already a member of the gym, so my presence is familiar and habitual. So, I am not standing out in particular as an outsider and my presence is not out of the ordinary. I think most members would not realize I was observing them.  My deafness gives me an excuse to use my eyes could provide an excuse for being overly observant.  It also makes me an expert in reading body language. However, my inability to hear also excludes me from listening in to conversations, so I am limited to interpreting motives based on gestures and facial/body expressions.

What ethical problems, if any, do you sense in doing this kind of research in this kind of setting?

Perhaps judgement and personal bias might come into play as I observe others in a setting where observation might be very uncomfortable to those who are sensitive to their body image. Many would probably not enjoy being described in detail on a public website like this, even anonymously.

How would you compare the quality of the data you gathered with that in any earlier observation you have done? Specify the points on which you base your comparison.

I frequent this gym three or four times a week, and I don’t usually observe others as closely as I did for this session.  I find that I isolate and insulate myself much as other solitary members do and focus on my own workout, although I do (discreetly) people-watch often.

If you were to do this exercise again, how would you improve your approach?

I am not sure I could hang out in a gym without being a participant as it would probably attract attention and make people feel self-conscious while they’re working out.  My sedentary behavior might turn off others who are working out and make me stand out to staff members who might see me as loitering.  I do notice that myself when I’m working out and wonder what a person who is not working out might be doing in a place like this. So my method to blend in and participate in exercise seems to be the best way to observe.

Week 3 Update

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been filling out consent forms and formulating research questions. This week has been pretty busy so I still have a few things I need to tweak, but I’m very close. When I’m finished (tonight or tomorrow?) I could use another set of eyes to make sure everything looks right. My […]

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been filling out consent forms and formulating research questions. This week has been pretty busy so I still have a few things I need to tweak, but I’m very close. When I’m finished (tonight or tomorrow?) I could use another set of eyes to make sure everything looks right. My goal for this coming week is to ask a few professors and students if they are willing to participate in this study/be interviewed. The general plan is to interview everyone twice: an initial interview before JazzFest (Feb. 27) regarding the history of the festival, what this festival has done for Truman/Kirksville/the greater Midwest educational community (some middle and high school bands take part in JazzFest), his or her experiences/involvement with it, how he or she is involved in JazzFest 48, etc. Then, I would like to have a follow-up interview after JazzFest 48 and have them reflect on this year’s event specifically. (More detail included in the consent form) I’ve been playing around with my WordPress site and am still having a little trouble figuring out how to have and post on multiple pages (like our main Festivals website). I figured out how to create a separate page (“Blog Posts”), but every time I “create a new post” in that page, it is published on my homepage. Not a big deal since I can still do everything I need to, but it would be nice on an aesthetic and organizational level. (Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually an 80 year-old man in terms of my relationship with technology…)

People Watching from a Corner Booth

Sunday, 7 February 2016, 12:20-1:20pm. King’s Chinese Buffet. Kirksville doesn’t have a lot going on when it’s cold out, so it was hard to think of something that would work well for this assignment. Then I remembered, regardless of the season, restaurants are always packed at lunch, and there is no better restaurant to observe […]

Sunday, 7 February 2016, 12:20-1:20pm. King’s Chinese Buffet. Kirksville doesn’t have a lot going on when it’s cold out, so it was hard to think of something that would work well for this assignment. Then I remembered, regardless of the season, restaurants are always packed at lunch, and there is no better restaurant to observe social interaction than a Chinese buffet. King’s Chinese Buffet (King’s) is fairly average in terms of size, atmosphere, and popularity. Though the decision to go during the lunchtime rush was deliberate, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I was showing up during the after-church lunchtime rush. This meant that there were a lot of larger groups of people, friendly stop-and-chats, and much more opportunities to observe the unwritten rules of buffets. Like any dine-in restaurant, the first thing that happens upon walking through the door is telling the maître-d’ how many people are in your party. For me, this was easy; I said, “just one” and he showed me to my table (I requested a table where I could clearly see the buffet and other tables as politely as I could). For larger groups, this takes a little longer, the largest groups sometimes having to wait by the door to be seated. In general, every place of business in Kirksville has the same three types of people: college students (younger people), locals (middle age-elderly people), and employees (mixed). King’s was no different, but, as previously mentioned, there was definitely a preponderance of locals who appeared to have just come from church—I say this because so many people were dressed up to some extent. What’s more, I noticed several friendly stop-and-chats (e.g. “Carol! It’s so good to see you. How are the kids?”). While this is not uncommon in a small town like Kirksville, this never seems to happen so frequently in one place, another reason why I suspect King’s must be an after-church hot spot. The average table size was between 3-6 people (there were, of course, outliers like me and a group of about a dozen or so people, as well as a few couples). Large groups tended to speak much louder, while smaller groups rarely spoke louder than a whisper, with the exception of the couple sitting in front of me, who were unabashedly loud. Smaller groups (2-4 people) always waited until everyone was finished to get another plate, a sort of gesture of social politeness. It was much more common for one or two people to break off for more food in larger groups, probably because this is less disrupting to the group as a whole. The most interesting and complex part is the process of actually getting food. At King’s, at least with such a large crowd, there seemed to be an unwritten/understood rule that you must go around the buffets in a line (kids, however, were free to jump around wherever they wanted). I respected this ritual for my first plate, but challenged it on my second. After grabbing a new plate and surveying the area, I jumped into an open spot next to a middle-aged woman who was busy filling up her plate. Without actually saying anything, she flashed me a brief look that accused me of “cutting” in line (what’s funny is, she didn’t even want anything else from that part of the buffet). Having said that, occasionally, people would go back to a certain item after an initial pass. When doing this, instead of simply swooping in, they will stand behind you to politely indicate they are waiting for you to finish. (While I wouldn’t say people are “rude,” per se, this very structured line system and rules of politeness are not as common in bigger cities like St. Louis—there, it’s much more of a free-for-all.) Finally, I took note of the waiter and waitresses’ patterns of cleaning off tables and the non-verbal signs of communication. For instance, an empty plate (without a fork or napkin) at the end of the table signals you are finished, but going back for more food. What’s more, the plate will not be picked up until you leave for your next plate. By the time you get back to the table, the plate is gone and your drink is refilled like magic. Most importantly is the location of your fork when the plate is picked up—keeping it on a napkin signals you are planning to eat more, when it is on the plate (usually with a used-up napkin), this signals, “check please!”   1) What are the strengths and weaknesses of this method of observation? How have you experienced these strengths and weaknesses in regard to this particular setting?
 The non-obtrusive nature of this method made it easy to make objective observations and allowed me to see things I may not have normally noticed. On the other hand, doing this assignment in this particular setting made me feel self-conscious and a little creepy. During my observations, it was hard to look like I was just eating food and not trying to spy on the entire restaurant; this tended to get in the way of thinking critically about what I was seeing during the first 30 minutes or so. 2) What strengths and weaknesses do you possess for conducting this kind of research in this type of setting? I think I have developed a keen eye for observation and the ability to think critically in the moment. On the other hand, the self-conscious feeling I mentioned was undoubtedly my biggest weakness and challenge. 3) What ethical problems, if any, do you sense in doing this kind of research in this kind of setting? In certain settings, this type of research may easily be considered an invasion of privacy depending on what information was gathered and how it was presented. However, in most situations, like King’s, this seems like a pretty harmless method of research. 4) If you were to do this exercise again, how would you improve your approach? Though King’s ended up working really well for this assignment, I found it hard to simply blend in. If I were to do this exercise again, I would choose something where I could be an active participant, at least to the extent that I don’t feel quite as creepy. Looking ahead, I’m confident that I will be more comfortable making these types of observations during JazzFest, given that I will also be an audience member.