Examples of Ethnographic Research: Introduction

In looking at particular case studies of ethnographic research I want to give a sense of the richness and variety of the symbolic interactionist tradition of empirical research in urban sociology. It is a tradition that, with the very one-sided nature of urban and housing research, has been made invisible. Urban and housing sociology has entirely overlooked this qualitative tradition of what Robert Prus calls very aptly “the study of lived experience”. See https://socialconstr.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/symbolic-interaction-and-ethnographic-research/.

The study of lived experience is essentially qualitative. The researcher merges herself with the life and experience of those she is studying. It is dismissed in positivist urban research as being flummig – a Swedish word meaning vague and waffly, all over the place and lacking in positivist methods.

I might add here that as an urban and housing sociologist I have been as guilty of this one-eyed approach as anyone else. Most of my books and articles certainly reflect this.

Much can be understood in terms of  what Thomas Scheff calls Academic Gangs. Scheff has been long retired but in retirement has been extraordinarily productive in developing his work. His home page continues to be developed, most recently with his work on the concept of shame.

Gary Alan Fine in his first editorial on taking over as Editor of Social Psychology Quarterly in 2007 criticised what he called “fetishizing rejection rates as guarantors of quality…in which 90 percent of our products are deemed unworthy…what a bunch of bozos we must be”. See https://socialconstr.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/sociometry-and-the-two-social-psychologies/.

One of the “problems” with much of the qualitative research in this tradition is that the hierarchy of power in academe wants to control what is researched and how it is researched. Institutional Review Boards are one way to do this. They have become more common in the neoliberal era. Jock Young in The Criminological Imagination (Policy Press, 2011 p. 107) discusses the problems raised by the direct involvement of administrators in delimiting the research process. Many of the older ethnographic research projects had to deal with the problems of involvement and detachment, and of undercover research conducted in certain sensitive issues. We will meet with this in the following posts on different research topics, where it will be more understandable when dealing with concrete cases than in this introduction.

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