Check out this NYT article about an ethnographer who studies the way we eat now . . .
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, […]
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…
- 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).
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
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 […]
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, […]
- 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.
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.
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
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 […]
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 […]