THE QUESTION OF HOW RACE AND CLASS SHAPE EVERYDAY EXPERIENCE has far-reaching implications because it speaks to the interests of a variety of fields and disciplines. Only an eclectic approach would allow me to get at the ideas and behaviors I wanted to explore. Qualitative data obtained through ethnographic research bring into focus the lives and faces behind statistics and theoretical formulations. Numbers are persuasive, but quantitative reports can also mislead, based on the style in which they are presented and/or the importance given their explanatory power. Similarly, although anthropological theories help social scientists understand and categorize field observations, data gathered through ethnographic inquiry can defy expectations built around theoretical constructs.
This opening chapter presents some of the data-gathering methods I relied on to complete this research project, and elaborates on the experience of doing fieldwork. An upcoming portion of the book discusses the political, historical, and economic backdrop of the ethnographic present. Here I provide readers with an aspect of context that relates to the unfolding of interpersonal relations in the field and other, often undocumented, aspects of anthropologists engaging in participant observation. For example, I consider some of the barriers to collecting data that I encountered over time, as well as factors that facilitated the research process. As they pertain to the identities and actions of researcher and the researched, both components speak to the role of race, socioeconomic status and gender in shaping the direction of ethnographic inquiry and determining the nature of the data collected.
Participant-observation in households and work settings was at the center of my research design. I also expected data from life histories to constitute an important part of this inquiry and, probably because of my passion for history, anticipated gathering this information with the most