Comparing Food Markets

| March 27, 2018

This inquiry assignment uses field observations to demonstrate how the process of globalization shapes social life in our local community. You will observe and compare two local markets, writing clear, detailed descriptions.


Doing Sociology: Comparing Food Markets Part 1 Writing Field Notes

Non-participant observation and writing field notes is an integral part of this assignment. Prior to this step though, you are expected to conduct a brief literature review ad use Census Data to assess the neighborhood that you will observe and write field notes on.

STEP 1 Literature Review

This is the first step in a project designed to get you out into the real world and “doing sociology.”  Our project will eventually ask you to make observations at two grocery stores in our local community and make sense of what you see by applying relevant sociological concepts.  

But, before I send you out to do your observations, this first step asks you to do some library research to find out what sociologists already know about immigration and cultural diversity in large urban areas.  

Your goal in this activity is to use the resources of Reinsche Library to find two recent articles (last 3 years: 2014-2016) from prominent sociology journals that deal with immigration and/or cultural diversity in cities.  I strongly encourage you to search in one of the journal on the list provided below.  

Once you find two appropriate articles, you’ll identify the title and source of your articles and provide a brief summary (in your own words) of the main findings from each article.  

List of Journals
American Journal of Sociology (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
City & Community (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
Ethnic and Racial Studies (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
International Migration Review (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
Sociology of Race and Ethnicity (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

If none of these turn up interesting articles, consider using the SOCIndex database (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

STEP 2 Census Data

Putting Observations in Context

The purpose of this assignment is to put the grocery stores you observed into context and understand how others may see them. You can use what you write here for your final project.

You observed both a larger mainstream grocery store chain (Giant, Harris Teeter, Safeway, Shopper’s Food Warehouse, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target) and an international food market listed on oue Google Map (Super A Market, Food Star Market, Bestway Supermercado, H Mart, Grand Mart, Good Fortune).

Outline for assignment
The assignment will include the following:

  • Demographic context
    • A table (template provided below)
    • Using the data from the table, write a brief (100+ word) description of the area around each grocery store
  • Grocery store reviews
    • A brief (150+ word) written discussion of how online reviewers talk about each store.

Additional information on each section:

Demographic context
Although neighborhood demographics do not necessarily reflect who shops at these stores, such information can be a helpful in understanding the context of the store.

For each store, look up demographic data that helps us understand the neighborhood where each store is located. You will produce a table, making sure to fill in the parts that are in GOLD lettering.

To find this information, you will use the Census Bureau’s American Fact Finder tool (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. Plug in the zip codes for each grocery store, one at a time.  Instructions for looking up the information needed:

  • To get Race/Ethnicity data, use the Race and Hispanic Origin Tab on the left hand side and click on the “Demographic and Housing Estimates (Age, Sex, Race, Households and Housing, …)” link.
  • To get Median Household Income, click on the Income tab on the left.  
  • To get the Individuals below poverty level data, click on the Poverty tab on the left.
  • To get data on Foreign born populations and their regional origins, click on the Origins and Language Tab on the left hand side and click on” Selected Social Characteristics (Household and Family Type, Disability, Citizenship, Ancestry, Language, …)” under 2014 American Community survey.

Using online review sites (either through Google, Yelp, or any other site you may be familiar with), research how people may view these stores. Google reviews show up whenever you use Google to search for a business (just make sure to include the location). If you use Yelp, you simply need to include the name and location of the grocery store you are searching.

For each store, look over the reviews and try to answer the following questions in your write-up:

  • How do people generally describe the store, services, products, employees, etc?
  • What patterns do you notice?
  • Do any of the comments suggest bias/prejudice on the part of the reviewer? Is there any evidence of ethnocentrism or cultural relativism?

 Submit your table, your description of the demographic context, and your summary of online reviews on Canvas with your field notes.

STEP 3 Non-Participant Observation and Writing Field Notes


This activity is Step 2 in our semester-long “doing sociology” assignment.  In this step you will go out into the community to identify how globalization shapes social life in our our area. You will observe and compare two local food markets (or grocery stores) and write clear, detailed descriptions of what you see. Your goal for this activity is to use a sociological research method, ethnography, to systematically observe the similarities and differences in these local grocery stores, their physical layout, the products they sell, and the clientele they serve.  The material you gather in this activity will form a major part of your final paper.  

Compare a mainstream grocery store (Select one: Giant, Harris Teeter, Safeway, Shopper’s Food Warehouse, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target) with an international food market (Select one: Super A Market, Food Star Market, Bestway Supermercado, H Mart, Grand Mart, Good Fortune). A number of approved international food markets are shown on this Google Map. (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.(Note: you may have to access this from a non-Marymount google account).  

This project requires that you make site visits to several locations. You will spend at least 45 minutes at each location making observations.

Step #1: Before you begin your field observations, spend some time thinking about how grocery stores are designed and organized. Use these initial expectations to make predictions regarding what you will find during your visit.

Step #2: Next, it’s time to visit the markets.  Spend at least ¾ hour observing at each location. As you observe, be on the lookout for similarities and differences between the two markets.

Use the following list of questions to guide your observations:

  • Before entering the store notice what kind of cars appear in the parking lot.
  • Describe the overall store layout (lighting, advertisements, decorations, background music).
  • What kind of products are being sold? Where did these products come from? For example – are there fresh vegetables and fruits?  If so, where was this produce grown?
  • Who frequents this store? What can you tell based on the type of products that are being sold? Also consider the people you see in the store (shoppers & clerks).

Once you leave the store, immediately sit down to write out field notes describing in as much detail as possible what you just observed.


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