Common Methods Of Data Collection In Her Ethnographic Study

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"Russell, L. 2005. It's a question of trust: balancing the relationship between students and teachers in ethnographic fieldwork. Qualitative Research, 5(2): 181-199".

Q1: The researcher says that "[i]ntense observations in the classroom and playground area were completed … [and] detailed observations were conducted in … lessons" (p.184). What can you infer about the things she observed and the methods she used to record her observations?

The author's study of student's resistance to schooling and what constitutes the resistance by observing the students' day to day activities. Her observant participation involves of what being the students' favourite and least favourite lessons to the extent of yard-sitting with the student during recess hour. For Lisa to obtain clearer pictures on the student's lifestyles, she "hangs around with a group of students identified by each school as not being able to cope in school" (Russell, 2005, p.184). Lisa shadowed and become part of the student for ease of her data collection. "Participation, rather than just observation, is one of the keys to this process" (Wiki, 2010). McNabb (2010, p.442) describe ethnography as "the study of group of people in the setting in which they live, work and/or play. To gather ethnographic data researcher must gain entry into the social setting, earn and maintain the trust of members of the groups, and observe and write narratives of everything that they see, hear and feel." Hence, Lisa is no longer observant of the research but somehow, she is participant to the researched. She has able to gain the students' trust as "a reciprocal relationship is built" (Russell, 2005, p.185).

"Trust is a process of holding certain relevant, favourable perceptions of another person" and "building trust is an integral component for culturally sensitive pedagogy" (Wheeless et al. cited in Corrigan & Chapman, 2008, p.1). Therefore, trust is the bridge that connects Lisa to her researched. Students' trust to Lisa motivates their relationship and develops the willingness to share unspoken rules, personal lives stories and also sharing Lisa of their views. In return, students are also allowed to read Lisa's logbooks. Furthermore, 'trust increases when we self-disclose found trust and self-disclosure to be related' and 'that there is a tendency to trust those who self-disclose' (Corrigan & Chapman, 2008, p.1, cited in Wheeless (1978), Wheeless & Grotz (1977)

Hammersley and Atkinson (1983) believe that "not only the exchanges facilitate the collection of data, but also they were data in their own right. However, problem is to decide how much self-disclosure is appropriate or fruitful. It is hard to expect honesty and frankness on the part of participant and informant, while never being honest and frank about one self." John Van Maanen (1996, p.263-265) explain that ethnography when used as a method, refers to fieldwork (alternatively, participant-observation) conducted by a single investigator who 'lives with and lives like' those who are studied, usually for a year or more.

By using the common methods of data collection in her ethnographic study, i.e. participant observation; Lisa immersed herself as part of the culture/group" and indirectly "making the connection a personal and individual one". She interviews the student, classroom teachers, head of years, members of seniors' management, counsellors and learning mentors (Russell, 2005, p. 184) and later documented the data. She probably uses her fieldnotes to check the accuracy of her observations. Secondary data collection on the school rewards and disciplinary system; student's academic ability and attendance records is also collected (Russell, 2005, p. 184). "The ethnographer participates, overtly or covertly, in people's daily lives for an extended period of time, watching what happens, listening to what is said, asking questions; in fact collecting whatever data are available to throw light on the issues with which he or she is concerned" (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1983).

Q2: The author is a "young ethnographer researching teenagers" (p.193). What difference does our knowledge of her age and other personal details make to the account?

Field and Morse (1985) describe ethnography as `a generalised approach to developing concepts to understand human behaviours from the emic point of view'. The emic perspective is an insider's or native's point of view (Byrne 2001, Mackenzie 1994). Spradley (1979) refer ethnography as "the work of describing a culture" with the goal "to understand another way of life from the native point of view". To better describe the "studied culture", the resemblances or the similarities of characteristic between the researcher and the researched would be a plus point as this could minimise the gap and differences. With this as well, the researcher could prepare herself to adapt to the situation that awaits them.

Describing herself as a "young ethnographer researching teenagers", Lisa uses her gender, nationality, use of language, size and age to take advantage of opportunities of common experiences. "My age helped me engage in and indeed understand discussions'' (Russell, 2005, p.194). Making use of her "naivety and young age", her own personal "reserved" disposition and her figure of being "smallness in height and build" (Russell, 2005, p.195), which is not much difference with the teenagers (Lisa mentioned her age is between 23-24 at time of researched), these influences the rapport Lisa has gained and interaction she has experienced with the teachers and the students. Lisa experienced the role transaction of moving into least adult role in a different way (Russell, 2005, p.193). As memories of her secondary years is not far behind her current phase of life, Lisa surely is not shocked with certain things she observed as she still able to relate to her owns schooling 'familiarity' during those secondary years when she describe "my novice naivety acted as a benefit when trying to manage impulsive and sometimes shocking behaviour of students" (Russell, 2005, p.182).

Age and its associated features also affect the way people react to the researcher along with what he or she is and is not allowed to do (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1983). This characteristic has worked in Lisa favour as the students may have felt unthreatened and therefore more open to express themselves. The resemblance that they share shapes the type of interaction she is having with the students and with this resemblance, she is able to avoid the trouble of access negotiations. Example of Corsaro's (1981) research on nursery school children also describe how researcher working with children has to adopt less adult roles for them to be accepted to the nursery society. Age of an ethnographic researcher makes a difference in the conduct of research and how data collected being presented. Data collected need to be analysed resourcefully not just to be accurate of the researched but also to be useful to the readers.

Although age is at Lisa's advantage to achieve the purpose of her research, as a young ethnographer she needs to face the impediment of being inexperience in skill and knowledge of handling ethnography study as data collection techniques can be learned but analysing the data is far more challenging for a junior ethnographer. Ethnography aims to describe the nature of those who are studied (i.e. to describe a people, an'ethnos') through writing (Maynard, M. & Purvis, J., 1994). Therefore, analysing and writing will always be one of the toughest struggles for junior ethnographer.

Q3. Russell claims that her "ethnographic research investigates the complex and sometimes contradictory culture(s) of student resistance to schooling (Willis, 1977)" (p.181). How is this claim supported in the paper?

"Carl continues to chat and jokes by saying, she (the teacher) always picks on me because I'm black; the lads laugh'' (Russell, 2005, p.187) and provoking conversation, consequently disrupting the teacher's attempt to quieten the class is part of students resistance (Russell, p. 188). "There were instances where students broke school rules that could have led to dire consequences. I witnessed students truant, thieve, damage school property, take illegal substances and even ask me to participate" (Russell, 2005, p.193). All these rules breaking behaviours demonstrate evidence that support strong presence of student resistance. "Skipping school, cutting classes, making fun of their teachers, or goofing off in class" are instances of students engaging in resistant behaviour at school" (Olafson, 2002, p.1).

The selections of students by each school itself are from two societal settings (Russell, 2005, p.182) are not just on students ranged "from truancy issues and those with negative attitude towards school and learning but also to low self-esteem students" (Russell, 2005, p.184). Students' resistance could also be in passive behaviour where students avoid completing given school works or student ignores presence of teachers in class. According to Olafson (2002, p.1) "Avoidance of school work is also considered as one of the central features of student resistance". Although Lisa claimed that her "research investigates the complex and sometimes contradictory culture (s) of student resistance to schooling" (Russell, 2005, p.181), there is limited illustration on the demonstrated activities of silent resistance and there is none on the causal root of such behaviours.

This is concurrence with Lisa's confession that "this research fails to investigate how class, gender, ethnicity, nationality and the surrounding societal milieu interrelate to shape resistance" (Russell, 2005, p.182). Although earlier in the paper, Lisa describes her 'investigative' research is to gain insight on "student resistance to schooling" (Russell, 2005, p.181) and this require her to observe and record the demonstrated behaviour of resistances and to identify the reasons they behaves in such performances. As an ethnographer, Lisa needs to focus on her primary research's objective. Lisa also must gain an insider understanding of the situation for her to reveal the reality and rational behind such behaviours and later to provide complete understanding of particular situation to her readers. Lisa 'field notes' should document more on the occurrence of student resistance amongst the selected students in these two difference continent that encompass of two different cultural upbringings. "Some field researchers consider field notes to be writings that record both what they learn and observe about the activities of others and their own actions, questions and reflections" (Atkinson et al. 2001, p.354). It is nothing wrong to takes a lot of reflexivity, but Lisa must no ignores the initial reason why the study is being taken up.

2nd Paper:

Kamenou, N. (2008), Reconsidering Work-Life Balance Debates: Challenging Limited Understandings of the 'Life' Component in the Context of Ethnic Minority Women's Experiences.

Q1: The author appears to have had difficulties recruiting interviewees (see especially p.s102). Why, for example, might an organization withdraw "from the study claiming "restructuring was in progress"? (p.s102)

Interviewing in the nineties has become a powerful of communications in our society and in social scientific research (Rubio, cited in Hornberger & Corson, 1997, p.153). "Interviews are particularly useful for getting the story behind a participant's experiences as the interviewer can pursue in-depth information around a topic. Interviews may be useful as follow-up to certain respondents to questionnaires, e.g., to further investigate their responses. Usually open ended questions are asked during interviews" (McNamara,1999, p.1). Kvale (1996, p.32) describes, "Qualitative research interview seeks to cover both a factual and a meaning level, though it is usually more difficult to interview on a meaning level".

In general, participation as an interviewee (either an individual or an organization) is on voluntarily basis. Consent of interviewee need to be sought and the interviewee must be fully informed on the purpose of research and what their participations involves. However, the interviewee is not obliged to continue with their participation if at certain stage they wish to withdraw from doing so. There are many reasons that can lead to a withdrawal of interviewee's participation. Seidman in Kirsch (1999, p.65) highlighted that "the interview process may lead a participant to divulging information that he or she later regret having shared".

In an organizational context, the management might worries over the unlimited views and uncontainable information that might be revealed by their employees that could cause adverse publicity to the organization's reputation. On the other hand, the interviewee is worried the length and depth of information and view shares with the researcher will have effect on their work position. "Privacy is a fundamental value, perceived by many as essential for the protection and promotion of human dignity. Hence the access, control and dissemination of personal information are essential to ethical research" [quoted Research ethic]. Thus, it is essential for the researcher to hold confidential of any information that is revealed in the context of a professional or research relationship.

In this paper, Kamenou detailed that her study aimed is "to investigate best practice equality issue and also to examine whether the reality matched the rhetoric of equality of opportunity within organization" and the identified organizations are those "publicizing themselves as leaders in diversity" (Kamenou, 2008, p.s102). With her researched focus on views and experiences of "ethnic minority women", she is indirectly interfering into a 'sensitive issue' of an organizational career laddering structure. In the case of Kamenou, the depressing response of participants and withdrawal at the eleventh hour by a 'large finance organization' with illogic reason that 'restructuring was in progress', is probably an indication that the inequality amongst the ethnic minority and gender discrimination does exist within the organization. Restructuring process is not a business strategy decision that is made on last minute call. Reason given is just to avoid undesirable interview responses from the employees. Even Montenegro & Needham (2010) commented that "the quest for work life balance is a critical goal for workers age 45 - 74, but is more so among racial/ethnic minority workers".

Withdrawal of the 'large finance organization' could be at their best decision to avoid possible negative publicity as possible result of the study can verify the 'undeclared' policy and practices are being prejudice on gender equality and more so on ethnicity features. Kamenou describes that "empirical data have indicated that both white and ethnic minority women struggle with balancing work and personal life demands to a greater extent than their male counterparts. However, an ethnicity or cultural dimension was apparent, as ethnic minority women often had to deal with additional cultural, community or religious demands"(2008, p.s99).

Q2: Would you expect differences between the people in organizations where formal access had been granted and the "'independent' group …identified through personal networking"? If so, what might these differences be?

Definitely there would be differences especially in term of data richness and disclosure of information between the "people in organization where formal access had been granted" and the "'independent' group… identified through personal networking" (Kamenou, 2008, p.s102). Qualitative research interview uses methods of open-ended questioning and this allows flexibility for interviewer to question and probe further on the answers and likewise, interviewee can respond in sharing their thoughts and experiences. Kamenou shares that "the semi structured, in depth nature of interview conducted with all participants allowed them the time and space to reflect and discuss their experiences in their own words" (Harvey, 1990; O'Dwyer, 2005) and helped to reduce possible biases in the research process. (2008, p.s103)

Nigel King (1994, p.253) describes that "a key feature of the qualitative research interview method is the nature of the relationship between interviewer and interviewee". The type of relationship between interviewer and these two different categories of interviewee could also distinguish the level of trust between the interviewer and interviewee for the richness of data can be obtained and depth of information to be disclosed. Normally, employees nominated by their organization will not disclose elaborates information or deliver direct opinions that could bring undesirable publicity that has potential to tarnish reputation of their organization because this will also cause negative impact to the employee's performance appraisal that could impact their salary/bonus review and/or career laddering within the organisation. Considering the destructive impact of their confession, the reality remains untold.

Unlike information from own personal networking, interviewee could possibly be one of those employees that have personal grievances over the 'unspoken' discriminating policies existed within the organization and the inappropriate conduct of its implementation. Being sampled as the research subject could be an avenue for this type of employee to voice out the conflicts responsively. "Balancing work with personal life demand" (Kamenou, p.s107) is issue faced by every worker in an organization irrespective of their position. Kamenou (2008, p.s102) give reason why she includes the 'independent group' that ranges from "shop floor, to voluntary workers…chief executives" that could "add richness to the data by looking at minority women's work and career experiences in variety of sector and occupations". If Kamenou were just to rely on the 'people in organizations where formal access had been granted' which is the "nine Managers within RetailCo and the Health Trust", the empirical data she would have obtain and conclusion she could have made could be different as there is possibility that the data will only represent one side perceptions and not the working society as a whole.

Under this discourse, as names and organization of interviewee are quoted, there is a potential risk they would not speak without restrictions. Therefore, the reality or validity of information collected from interviews is questionable. Sometimes the interviewee provides indirect information (Creswell, 2003), which calls for an intensive sense making on behalf of interviewees (Alvesson, 2003).

Q3: From reading the paper, what do we know about the author? How might the identity of the author have made a difference to the research?

There is nothing much known about the author's self-detail except only brief information on her academic career. As there is no personal reflexivity by the author and nowhere mention in the paper that the author is a "member of one of the ethnic minority group" (Kamenou, 2008, p.s10x), still it does not means that the author does not belong to any one of them. Sue Wilkinson describe in Worell (2002, p.752) that "personal reflexivity is a continuing process of reflection on the part of the researcher about how her multiples identities (her social class, gender, age, status, feminist stance, ethnicity, and so on) influence her work." Researcher's identity certainly has an impact on the reader's interpretation on the research's design and conduct. Probably one of the reasons why Kamenou does not reflect on her details is because she does not want to influence her readers. Although it's could allow the readers to have better understanding on the researcher's personal values and interest, it's could also lead to the concern whether the researcher is being biased or not. Biasness in qualitative research would have effect on the reliability and validity of finding and for sure will affect the reporting of actual situation.

This is dissimilar from Russell's ethnography paper that emphasizes on personal observation and self-reflexivity but less on the statistical information. Through her reflective paper, Russell share more of her personal observation and on being part of the society but less on statistical information such as data collection and her analysis of the reality. "Experts contended that through reflection researchers may become aware of what allows them to see, as well as what may inhibit their seeing" (Russell & Kelly, 2002). Reflecting on her own experiences during the fieldwork, Lisa argues that "the researcher should employ a reflexive attitude to understand how the interaction between the researcher and the researched, and the researcher's autobiography, influence the data collected" (p. 197).

In contrast, Kamenou's paper provides readers with her interviewee's view and personal life experience; their behavioural responses and the causes of such behaviour in a more structured process. Qualitative inquiry employs different knowledge claims, strategies of inquiry, and methods of data collection and analysis (Creswell, 2003). It then could provide a deeper understanding (Silverman, 2005) of the research. Qualitative analysis prioritizes the study of perception, meanings and emotions as well as behavior which aim to figure out authentic insights and study how phenomena are constructed (Silverman, 2005).

Total words count: 3038

Reference (Russell Paper)

Olafson, L, 2002, "I hate Phys. Ed.": adolescent girls talk about physical education. Journal of Physical Educator, Spring 2002, ,p.1-7

Corrigan, M & Chapman, P, Radical Pedagogy (2008)


Corsaro, W. Friendship in the nursery school: Social organization in peer environment. In S. R. Asher & J. M. Gottman (Eds.), The development of children's friendships. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

McNabb, D. E. (2010). Research methods for political science: quantitative and qualitative methods,   p.442.

Martin Hammersley and P. Atkinson, Ethnography: Principles in Practice (London and New. York: Routledge, 1983).page 2, 72 - 77.

Maynard, M. & Purvis, J. (1994). Researching women's loves from a feminist perspective. London: Taylor & Frances. p. 76

Russell, L. 2005. It's a question of trust: balancing the relationship between students and teachers in ethnographic fieldwork. Qualitative Research, 5(2): 181-199

Spradley, J.P. (1979). The Ethnographic Interview. Wadsworth Group, Belmont, CA. p.3

Van Maanen, J. (1996). Ethnography. In: A. Kuper and J. Kuper (eds.) The Social Science Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., pages 263-265. London: Routledge. 

Willis, P. (1977). Learning to labour. Hampshire: Gower Publishing.

Wikipedia 2010, Ethnography, online, retrieved 25 November 2010 from