In the Field: An Introduction to Field Research

By Robert G.Burgess | Go to book overview

Preface

Sociological research was, at one time, closely identified with survey methods, while anthropological research was based upon intensive studies using field methods including participant observation. Such a sharp dichotomy between the research practice and research procedures of these two disciplines no longer exists, for sociologists are as likely to use field methods as anthropologists are to engage in survey work. Furthermore, members of both disciplines now increasingly focus attention on the study of their own culture using a range of research strategies and methods. Accordingly, intensive studies using field methods are now conducted in urban-industrial settings such as factories, hospitals, prisons, schools and classrooms.

Alongside these developments in research, more courses and seminars are devoted to field research, drawing on vast bodies of American literature and utilising American textbooks. For there is relatively little British material that brings together a discussion of the literature with practical examples drawn from the study of British society. This book is, therefore, an attempt to begin to fill this gap. However, it is not intended to be an encyclopaedic coverage of the literature on field methods. Instead, like its companion volume Field Research: a Sourcebook and Field Manual (Burgess, 1982a) it covers some of the main issues and problems involved in field research. The aim is to provide insights on the research process while raising critical issues on field methods to which any researcher needs sensitising. In turn, this leads into a consideration of the relationship between the principles and practice of field research together with a discussion of the conduct and evaluation of field studies. There is also a guide to some of the literature on field research through the annotated reading lists at the end of each chapter and the complete list of references at the end of the book.

I have written this book with a number of audiences in mind. First, undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers in sociology and social anthropology who are coming to field research for the first time. Secondly, students who are conducting field studies in their own society. Thirdly, students who are required to evaluate field studies and who seek to understand the conduct of field research. I hope they will all find material here which will go some way towards promoting discussion and dialogue about the conduct of field research in urban-industrial settings.

In writing this book I have drawn on a range of empirical examples including my own field experiences while conducting research in an urban comprehensive school. I would, therefore, like to thank once more the teachers and pupils in ‘my school’ who not only co-operated

-xiii-

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