Friday, February 27, 2009

Week 8: Ethnographic Studies

Lauer & Asher:

Q1: In contrast with case studies, ethnographies observe many areas of their subjects, looking at the entire environment over long periods of time in order to identify, define and interrelate variables in context.
Q2: Triangulation impacts data collection and analysis because it involves a multiplicity of observations, including identifying & defining the whole environment they plan to study, planning ways of varying their observations, mapping setting, selecting observers & developing a relationship with them, and establishing a long period of investigation. And then, because this method involves a variety of techniques, it contributes to challenges in coding from a variety of sources for data analysis.
Q3: Validity comes for a "continual reciprocity between developing hypotheses about the nature and patterns of the environment under study and in regrounding of these hypotheses in repeated observation, further interviews, and the search for disconfirming evidence" (40). In order to ensure that data analysis is reliable, there must be "reliability among coders and the testing of schemas in new environments" (43). Beaufort states that it is not possible to measure reliability in ethnography (194). Researchers must also consider the common problems of interpreting qualitative data, as per Sadler (data overload, first impressions, confidence in judgment, etc...). Researchers must also contend with whether the data will be replicable and stable over time.

Q1: In keeping with observing the entire environment over a long period of time, D&F focused on a year-long process of collaboration among a group of computer software company executives (Microware, Inc. @ NSU) during the writing process of a vital company document.
Q2: The multiplity of observations of triangulation in this study included participant/observations, open-ended interviews, and discourse-based interviews (he also used field notes and tape-recorded meetings). Data collection came from 3 to 5 days a week of visits to the company for eight months. The data was analyzed chronologically using analytical categories, which linked to major themes.
Q3: Anderson ensured his research, which yielded results that were of a particular case, and "as such can be generalized only very tentatively" were valid by comparing his results with "the results of research cited at the outset of this report" (183). He also mentioned that there had been little research into the relationships between writing and the evolution of an organization. Although I did not find any evidence of how he coded all of these interviews, it appears that he concluded his research was valid because it met the same standards of the research he quoted.

Q1: Here the writer focuses on a segment of the ethnography of writing in a workplace setting (a medium non-profit agency, the Job Resources Center, with 50 employees, 300 students and an annual budget of $3 million) by showing how the goals of a discourse community connect to writers' roles and the socialization process for writers new to a community (in this case, Pam and Ursula). It examines this "window of culture" over a long period of time (for one year) (L&A 40). The data she reports is drawn from a larger ethnography of writing in a nonprofit center and reveals the socialization process of two writers new to the organization (187).
Q2: The triangulation impacts data collection and analysis because of the sheer volume of data that is collected and the coding from a variety of sources. Here she looked at field notes, interview transcripts, writing samples and social roles within JRC. She collected data weekly, observed client programs and the full range of activities at the agency, she interviewed the executive directors, interviewed each woman weekly, audiotaped conversations and photocopied all of the writing.
Q3: She uses the data to offer "a view of an informal process of acquisition of writing skills among college graduates who were learning new genres and the norms of discourse" and from this data she speculates on potential implications for managers with workplace communications responsibilities and for educators charged with writing curriculum and staff development programs (191). Using the areas of triangulation mentioned in Q2, she assured validity by "comparing different data sources to one another, compared different responses of the informants over time, and solicited the informants' responses to drafts of the research reports (194). She states that an N of 4 is not sufficient for generalizing from the data, nor is it possible for ethnography to measure reliability, but the findings were still rigorous and systematic.

Q1: This ethnography seeks to understand the standardization processes involved in the writing done (the Building Project) by a class of 7th grade students in Crayton, a city of 1 million, during an 8-week project. It became a political project, though not by design, as the survey results "must have caused concern." Apparently, after the school board voted to close the school, the survey of the Sanders community revealed that parents, students and staff of SMS did not want a new school.
Q2: Acting as a participant observer in a classroom, the author collected audiotaped classroom and group discussions, student writing, field notes, and texts, including a history booklet, a neighborhood planning book , two videos and census data. She examined the exchange of ideas to see how standardization as a process of production, consumption and distribution played into students' writings.
Q3: Validity comes for a "continual reciprocity between developing hypotheses about the nature and patterns of the environment under study and in regrounding of these hypotheses in repeated observation, further interviews, and the search for disconfirming evidence" (40). Sheehy hypothesized that standardized testing is dominated by testing rhetoric, and is a "play of power that can be charted both in the act of writing and in written forms' effects" (334). At the end of her study, she concluded that standardizing "forced involved direct teaching, genre memory, and several strategies employed to bring cohesion and unity to diverse ideas" (333). The findings of this research are "influenced by a major limitation of the research design, a limitation which Grossberg (1992) cautioned can happen with analyses of power" (366). As research becomes more abstract, it moves away from observable data to how power operates at the concrete level. She found she could not draw many connections to more abstract data as it was focused on the specific contexts of the Building Project. She could not make connections between the visible context and the history of the essay in schools, and her data, "as framed, had only one teaching connection to it: Audrie's relationship to the school board" (366). She was, however, able to demonstrate the contexts the 7th graders demonstrated in recontextualizing via "emotional appeal, veiling contradiction, and intertextual and interdiscursive alliances" (366). She concludes that her research is valid in the sense that it did shed light on the tensions of "centrifugal and centripetal forces in students' writings" (368).

Q1: Using autoethnography of her own experience on a plane headed to the Dulles Airport on 9/11, Ellis shows that everyday stories merit telling from those not directly involved in the attacks. She uses this story (her "chaos narrative" to find personal and collective meaning in this tragedy (377). Her goal is to have others put their stories into words and "compare your experience to mine, and find companionship for your sorrow" (378). A case study, in contrast, would closely examine subjects in a natural setting and would use content analysis to develop and quantify variables in communication data (L&A 31).
Q2: The only triangulation in this tale appears to come from the multiple stories that intersect around the experience of 9/11. Her aim is understanding, which "offers the possibility of turning something chaotic into something potentially meaningful." She wishes to heal personally and collectively through personal narrative: "As a qualitative methodologist and civic-minded person, I feel a calling to bring personal stories to cultural situations. I offer this approach as a way to understand and heal ourselves and the nation" (401).
Q3: This researcher does not attempt, other than seeking legitimate 9/11 stories, to determine whether the stories are reliable and valid.

Q1: Using the analytic ethnographic paradigm, Anderson seeks to "clarify an approach to autoethnography that is consistent with traditional symbolic interactionist epistemological assumptions and goals, rather than reject them" (378). Here he identifies 5 key features of analytic autoethnography, and draws upon several realist ethnographic texts (for example, Robert Murphy's The Body Silent, which is an "illness ethnography," and unlike a case study, features a sustained focus on this tradition) that exemplify these impulses, and lastly, he draws upon several examples from recreational skydivers from his own research.
Q2: In keeping with the triangulation aspect of ethnographies, Anderson mentions that the "autoethnographer...must also record events and conversations, at times making fieldwork 'near[ly] schizophrenic in its frenzied multiple focus'(380). He mentions that while skydivers prepare for a jump by mentally rehearsing the jump, conducting checks on gear, and joking with other jumpers, he uses the time to consciously observe and etch conversations. He accommodates the problem of "multiple foci" by alternating simpler jumps where he can be more attentive, with fully jump-focused rides (380). He also mentions that such multitasking creates "potential pitfalls, exacerbating certain problems endemic to field research" (389).
Q3: The limitations of analytic autoethnography include that most researchers do not find research interests that are deeply intertwined with their personal lives, as "autoethnography requires" (390). This research is apparently undergirded by a "quest for self-understanding" and an opportunity to explore aspects of the researcher's social life in a "deeper and more sustained manner" (390). He mentions that the methodological advantage "relate to the ways in which being a CMR facilitates the availability of data" (389). Although Anderson mentions little specifics on how validity and reliability were instituted in the studies he summarizes, he does state that "the ethnographic imperative calls for dialogue with 'data' or 'others.' He also mentions David Karp, in Speaking of Sadness, as he was "always disciplined by the data collected in in-depth interviews" (386). Specifics, however, were not given.


  1. Evaluating ethnographies was tough for me this week. It appeared, as I read each one, all had serious problems. Oddly, the one that seemed to match Lauer and Asher's description, in my opinion, was the Shattered Lives story--and I do call it a story because that is what it felt like. While she didn't do a great job with reliability, neither did the others in my opinion. You state that Beaufort was sytematic and rigorous but I just couldn't see relevance or importance to her findings and ultimately she tried to generalize what she found. She also didn't exactly participate in the group--she was more of an outsider--and never really explained how she established rapport with the participants. These problems were similar, I thought, in all but the 9/11 story.

    I have come to decide that ethnographies must be difficult to ultimately validate. Either they turn into a case study where it becomes easy to jump to conclusions, or they rely on unreliable data and personal narrative to make their point.

  2. Maybe we can start a conversation here. I tend to agree with you, Wendy, that Beaufort was rigorous and systematic. And, Curtis, I had the opposite reaction to Beaufort and Ellis. Of all of them, I thought Beaufort was the most participatory, in fact, maybe too much so. After all, she was the students' teacher as well as their observer!

    Anderson, in calling for an analytic autoethnography, demands that researchers be fully participatory in the communities they study, not to mention obvious about their role as observer/researcher. To me, this seems directed against what Ellis is doing. What do you both (or others reading this)make of this tension? Curtis, it seems that you like your researchers as participants, but you also really liked Ellis' study. How to the two dance together (this is not an accusation; rather, an honest question)? And Wendy, what did you make of Ellis? I raised a point in my blog about her study: if this counts as social science, why wouldn't a movie like United 93? In fact, wouldn't a film like this be even more effective in creating the type of dialogue and participatory community that Ellis is hoping to produce with her narrative? It seems even more valid, since there was much more triangulation involved in researching the events of that film. Shattered Lives is more memoir with citations.

    Memoir is a genre I don't mind at all, especially if it indicates a trend in ethnographies. Rhetorics and poetics have plenty of room for the social sciences.