Watching Closely: A Guide to Ethnographic Observation

Watching Closely: A Guide to Ethnographic Observation

Watching Closely: A Guide to Ethnographic Observation

Watching Closely: A Guide to Ethnographic Observation

Synopsis

Ethnographers rely on three related activities to conduct research in the field: observation, conversation, and participation. Observing others in their environments and using this data to inform and share conclusions is an essential part of any field worker's toolkit. However, many ethnographers' observational muscles tend to be their weakest. Fortunately, Christena Nippert-Eng's Watching Closely: A Guide to Ethnographic Observation provides a practical, interactive guide for improving one's powers of observation. The book includes nine exercises for practicing observational skills, including a preparatory briefing and post-exercise discussion. Nippert-Eng also offers a weblink (global.oup.com/us/watchingclosely) to sample responses from her previous students, providing an additional resource beyond the text itself. Beyond the traditional tenets of field work, Watching Closely encourages readers to pursue more creative ways of collecting and analyzing data, such as sketching, diagramming, and photography, as well as developing more concrete expectations for the potential uses and meanings of ethnographic data. Engaging and accessible, Watching Closely offers a guide for readers to not only strengthen their core skills and mindset as fieldworkers, but also to produce research that is more scientifically rigorous and persuasive. From social and behavioral scientists to user-centered designers and architects, undergraduate students to experienced fieldworkers, a vast array of readers will reap the benefits of learning more about how we observe.

Excerpt

How to Do the Exercises

This book is based on the model of a fine arts or studio course. Such courses focus on essential skills and are organized around well-defined challenges or exercises, to which students respond in whatever way seems appropriate to them. Each exercise in this book focuses on a particular concept and a specific data-collecting challenge. Readers are invited to respond as creatively as possible in whatever way seems to best address the given problem. With each exercise, the level of challenge increases, with subsequent exercises inviting you to build on what you have learned. The discussions around each exercise get shorter, too, as successive exercises assume what was covered earlier.

Readers will get the most out of these exercises by actually doing them, one at a time. Each exercise begins with a discussion of the central concept and data-taking goals, followed by the observation assignment. When you reach this point, stop reading and do the exercise. Spend a solid sixty minutes in the field, no more. Later—sometimes, the next day—write up what you learned during your time in the field. I’ll provide a suggested structure for this write-up, to help focus your attention on some of each exercise’s most important aspects.

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