Free «Grounding Social Problems Research Through Ethnographic Fieldwork» Essay Sample

Grounding Social Problems Research Through Ethnographic Fieldwork

The grounding of social problems uses ethnographic methods, which are very important in sociology. By grounding is meant that social problem research should be connected with real life, and ethnographic methods should help researchers study the subjects they are interested in rather than capture attention of the academics involved. There are four methods of studying social problems: experiments, the usage of existing data ( secondary data), observational fieldwork, and survey research.

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Experiments are used in natural sciences and psychology, but their use in sociology is limited due to the fact that people tend to behave in a different way when they know that they are observed. So experiment is not a productive or beneficial method in sociology. Nevertheless, experiments can be conducted in laboratories and in the natural setting; these are called field experiments. During field experiments conducted in naturalistic environment, researchers can measure things, which people do not want to say during surveys as they do not want to present themselves from a bad standpoint and they simply do not realize some of their actions. On the one hand, researchers can tell to the participants that a particular experiment is conducted and, in such a way, make a social event ethical by revealing the truth to the respondents. On the other hand, people would know what is happening, and thus they would control their emotions and alter their behavior. Without a doubt, this cannot make a social research entirely successful.

Existing data (secondary data) give a full picture while researching a social problem. They comprise reports, television programs, newspapers, websites, magazines, films, journals, radio programs, books, official publications. They help to understand the historical flow and the key points related to a social problem. It is an essential process in studying any social problem, since it is based not on new facts but on the already existing information. Existig data are considered to be non-reactive, because people involved in the social research do not know about these data. This kind of secondary information is of extreme importance, since it has been collected in the course of centuries, and it is not possible to conduct new surveys that can provide objective relevant historical changes and developments.

Social surveys involve investigations and rely on random sampling and questionnaires containing pre-constructed, standardized questions that are usually constructed by a person who does a particular research. One can classify social survey as a field study with quantitative approach. The main aim is to gather facts, opinions, and attitudes to a particular social problem, so-called primary data. Social survey can access quantitative information of population or public opinion (opinion poll).

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Fieldwork is research undertaken outside school, office, or laboratory. It refers to going out among the people into the real world to investigate a problem. Social researchers who conduct field research may interview or observe people in their natural environments in order to gain a full spectrum of knowledge about their languages, folklore, and social relations. Field research comprises a range of well-organized but, at the same time, different methods: direct observation, informal interviews, spending time with the group, group discussions as well as analyses of personal documents that are produced by a particular society, self-analysis, and results from activities undertaken in different conditions. While conducting ethnographic field research, one should keep an ethnographic record ? file notes. It is important that a researcher makes mental notes about the social process he/she observes, then write them down, explain how they attach to the research project, and, finally, make own conclusions and personal evaluations of the ethnographic field research.

Observation is one of the fieldwork approaches, which aim to simply observe people’s behavior without communicating with them or asking questions. The results mostly reflect the views of the researcher. Participant observation involves direct participation in the life of the person one observes. Ethnography involves open-ended questions, which gives a respondent the possibility of freedom, choice, and chance to tell what he/she wants to say. A respondent tells the truth and gives objective points of a particular social problem, but not the information that a researcher may expect to hear. Open-ended questions are a key point in grounding social problems.

Ethnographic research usually involves standpoint sampling. Standpoint is a position from which an individual, group or society perceives social reality. Before starting a direct interview or investigating a particular social problem, a researcher should consider various standpoints that can be attached to the experiment.

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Sometimes social researchers fail to do ethnographic research before the survey and, as a result, people are a little bit puzzled and the experiment does not bring much credibility. Fieldwork methods should always be conducted before the survey research as people will have more courage to answer the questions and the whole social experiment will gain more credibility. A good way to start a social research is to start with informal interview. For example, a researcher can visit a café or a barber shop and just socialize with people. Then he continues with semi-formal interviews, which help to better understand social issues of the problem and the reaction of people. Only after that he can finally conduct a survey, when the social background is more understandable.

In conclusion, ethnographic methods of studying social problems, such as experiments, the usage of existing data ( secondary data), observational fieldwork, and survey research, are very important in the process of sociological research and grounding social problems.

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