Philosophy, Methodology and Reflection
Michael L. Silk
Numbers do not protect against bias, they merely disguise it. All statistical data are based
on someone's definition of what to measure and how to measure it. An “objective” statistic
is really made up of very subjective decisions.
Patton, Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods
This paper discusses ethnographic approaches within sports studies — approaches that are qualitatively oriented given the general effort to account for the complex nature of social settings (Maguire, 1991). Under the term ethnography there exists a variety of different approaches, schools or sub-types. Not surprisingly then ethnography has a rich, varied and troublesome history within the social sciences (see Berg, 2001; Denzin & Lincoln, 1994a; 2000; Lofland & Lofland, 1995), a genealogy that perhaps best allows us to view contemporary ethnographic research as a constant “process of oppositions” (Atkinson & Hammersley, 1994). Early ethnographic work took place within a scientific world dominated by a positivistic research paradigm. Although they have quite different, and at times problematic, histories, contemporary ethnographic practices within sports studies pay a great debt to the discipline of anthropology and to the study of human lived experience in symbolic interactionism (Prus, 1996). The groundbreaking work of Herbert Blumer, and others at the Chicago School interested in understanding different patterns of life within Chicago — from the high society of the “gold coast” to the slum ghettos of “Little Sicily” — and the classic works of Whyte (1943) and Becker, Geer, Hughes and Strauss (1961) developed, transformed and transcended the accepted boundaries of social science (see Hammersley 1989; Prus, 1996; Vidich & Stanford, 1994).
To different degrees, these initial attempts at “understanding” culture found it hard to grapple with the complexities of social life under a scientific regime centered on validity, reliability and objectivity (see also Hallet and Fine, 2000). These frustrations have perhaps most famously been narrated by Malinowski (1967) who, in the early part of the twentieth century, attempted to “enter the field,” find out about New Guinea and the Trobriand Island natives and return with stories about strange people. As Malinowski recorded: