Human Organization Research: Field Relations and Techniques

By Richard N. Adams; Jack J. Preiss | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

FIELD work in the social sciences differs from that in many other fields in the degree to which the behavior of the scientist himself affects the outcome of the study. Laboratory scientists must exercise great care, but the material with which they deal is in great part inanimate or at least nonhuman.1 The influence on the field situation exercised by the observer of human behavior becomes a central part of his research problem. The social science field worker's problems differ from those of his natural science colleague in that he must make himself meaningful to people rather than merely try to obscure his presence. Early field workers in anthropology tried to emphasize the importance of observing and not disturbing the social behaviors that were the subject of study. As our sophistication has grown, we now increasingly realize that field workers are individuals who cannot avoid playing a role in the field situation. The question is not how to avoid affecting the behavior of the people being studied but how to control and judge the quantity and quality of that effect. The question of research relations, in short, is just as much a part of field technique as that of constructing a questionnaire, collecting potsherds, or making a map.

This subject has been of increasing concern in the literature. To cite but a few instances, Floyd Mann and Ronald Lippitt edited a journal issue2 in 1952 devoted to the subject; Robert L. Kahn and Charles F. Cannell ( 1957, pp. 3-105) devote a quarter of the text portion of their 1957 volume on interviewing to the subject; and Margaret Luszki ( 1958), whose earlier article is contained in the present volume (2),* has prepared a study of certain aspects of the problem that should be required reading for anyone embarking on large-scale interdisciplinary efforts. The field

____________________
*
One- and two-digit references in parentheses refer to the numbered articles in this volume. References by date may be found in the Bibliography.
1
In this connection see the interesting report by E. L. Tatum ( 1959).
2
The Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 8, No. 3 ( 1952), devoted to "Social Relations Skills in Field Work." The articles contained therein are: "Developing Research Relationships" by Robert Kahn and Floyd Mann; "Initiating and Maintaining Research Relations in a Military Organization" by N. J. Demerath; "Diagnosing Defense against the Outside" by Chris Argyris; "Getting Individuals To Give Information to the Outside" by Fred H. Blum; and "Training in Field Relations Skills" by Stephen Richardson.

-3-

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