Human Organization Research: Field Relations and Techniques

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

CHAPTER XVIII
CATEGORIES OF EVENTS IN FIELD OBSERVATIONS*

Robert H. Guest

No ONE has yet succeeded in developing a universally applicable typology of behavior categories in observed events. Probably no one ever will, inasmuch as the purpose for classifying such behavior differs with each separate hypothesis under inquiry.

One of the apparent difficulties in breaking down behavior into categories is the confusion in the "level of inference" at which the observer is operating. How much judgment does the observer have to use in transferring what he sees or hears into symbols that are meaningful and measurable? The lowest level of inference is to observe simply that "A speaks to B." A high level of inference involves elaborate explanation of the reasons why A speaks to B. To observe an event, record it symbolically, and categorize what actually occurred becomes increasingly difficult the more the observer's own judgment is brought into play. It is this writer's contention that social science still has a long way to go in knowing how to develop classificatory systems at the lowest level of inference. Before the business of theory-building is launched into, considerably more needs to be done in answering the deceptively simple classificatory question, "Who does what, with whom, when, and where?" Answering this question first is essential under field conditions where the observer has no control over the event process.

What follows is a brief review of some of the classificatory systems that observers have used at the low inference level of observation. It does not pretend to be exhaustive, and it goes little beyond a simple description of the categories themselves. Most of the examples are drawn from the industrial field, with which the writer is most familiar. The last part of the chapter describes in some detail a field study of industrial foremen conducted by this observer. Not only are the categories of

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*
An original contribution, prepared for this volume.

-225-

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