Mini-ethnographic observation

| July 28, 2016

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Mini-ethnographic observation

Procedure: Choose two public spaces, one in which you consider yourself an insider and one in which

You consider yourself an outsider. Keep in mind that none of these categories (public, private, insider, outsider) is absolute, so don’t worry too much about whether your chose is “right.” The important point is to be able to explain why you chose the spaces you did.

Spend about 20-30 minutes in each space, taking notes on what you observe. (See questions below.)

If it is not appropriate to take notes while you are there, you can do it afterwards but it should be as soon as possible, while the experience is fresh in your mind. Finally, write a brief (2-3 page) summary in which you compare the two spaces.

Questions for observation: How does the space look I sound I feel? Who is there and “ho is not there (demographic characteristics)? How do they interact with each other and with the space? Are there any patterns I do different kinds of people act in different ways? Is anything surprising to you? Do you notice anything that might be surprising to others (even if not to you)? Try to describe rather than interpret; in other words, stick to what you see /hear /observe.

Questions for analysis: As an insider, how does your background knowledge of the space influence your understanding of what is going on? What do you notice that you think others might not? What is so obvious that is seems not worth mentioning? How does your insider status affect your interactions with people in the space?

As an outsider, how does your lack of knowledge about the space affect your understanding of what is going on? Did you find yourself making inferences or assumptions? Was is easier or harder to describe your observations externally compared to being an insider?

The paper should include:

  1. A brief description of each site. Even if it is a familiar space, imagine that you are describing it to someone who has never been there. Include a description of the physical space, as well a demographics, interactions, and anything else that was interesting. (This is based on the “questions for observation” above.)
  2. Research plan: When did you visit each site (days of the week, times, how long, etc.)? What did you do? If you interacted with people, in what ways?
  3. Reflect on your own background and your role in each site: what is your relationship to this site and the people in it? In what ways were you an insider I outsider?
  4. Reflect briefly on how your insider I outsider status might influence your perception in both cases. (This is based on the “questions for analysis” above.)
  5. Conclusions: What if any difference did your status as an insider I outsider make? (If it didn’t make a difference, that’s interesting too; why do you think it didn’t?

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