Research Methods for Cultural Studies

By Michael Pickering | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Why Observing Matters

Virginia Nightingale

Materiality conveys meaning. It provides the means by which social
relations are visualised, for it is through materiality that we articulate
meaning and thus it is the frame through which people communicate
identities. Without material expression social relations have little
substantive reality … (Sofaer 2007: 1)

Observation-based research relies on interactions and exchanges between researcher and research participants, and it is this expanded vision of observation – observation that explicitly designs and accounts for the impact of the research process on the fieldwork experience and the data it produces – that the chapter explores. It is based on the premise that communication is a material process in the sense that it is something that can be observed, recorded, documented, analysed and written about. Fieldwork involves finding ways to transform the fleeting character of communication and social relations into durable analysable forms. Other research practices – for example, textual analysis, image analysis, historical research, archival research, market research – may be used to complement the materials produced by the primary engagement with research participants. These research practices use forms of mediation other than observation by a researcher, and usually play a supporting role to the observation-based fieldwork. These secondary research materials are increasingly important today because in effect they replace some of the contextual information previously revealed through the extended time commitment required by a traditional participant observation.

In observation-based research, ‘exchange’ between the researcher and the research subjects is the medium that assists the transformation of ideas and thoughts into the words and activities recorded. Exchange also acts as a corrective to the assumptions inherent in the researcher (his or her predisposition to counter-transference) that might otherwise be projected onto the research

-105-

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Research Methods for Cultural Studies
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Figures vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Section One - Lives and Lived Experiences 15
  • Chapter 1 - Experience and the Social World 17
  • Chapter 2 - Stories and the Social World 32
  • Section Two - Production and Consumption 51
  • Chapter 3 - Investigating Cultural Producers 53
  • Chapter 4 - Investigating Cultural Consumers 68
  • Section Three - Quantity and Quality 87
  • Chapter 5 - Why Counting Counts 89
  • Chapter 6 - Why Observing Matters 105
  • Section Four - Texts and Pictures 123
  • Chapter 7 - Analysing Visual Experience 125
  • Chapter 8 - Analysing Discourse 150
  • Section 5 - Linking with the Past 173
  • Chapter 9 - Engaging with Memory 175
  • Chapter 10 - Engaging with History 193
  • Bibliography 214
  • Notes on Contributors 234
  • Index 237
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