Posted by: lindsaym88 | April 6, 2015

Abandon Assumptions, All Ye Who Enter Here

In fieldwork, and really, in any public space where humans interact, your appearance and demeanor provides others the opportunity to make snap judgments. In areas where there is not reasonable time to get past any issues that might arise from such judgments, you must take honest stock of yourself. Who are you and how do you present yourself? With which groups of people would you most easily fall in with? And which will prove challenging? The fastest way to make these determinations is to break yourself up categorically and break yourself down into a comprehensive list.

Demographically speaking, I am a twenty-six year old, straight, white female. I am of no real religious affiliation, although I come from a Catholic family. I am soundly middle class and in pursuit of a master’s degree. I am of moderate fitness level and reasonable appearance in that I usually put effort in my dress, I am tall, and have pleasant, symmetrical features. Others would describe me, firstly, as awkward, and then in any order, a combination of shy, energetic, ridiculous, gracious, anxious, and annoyed. I have been ascribed, though somewhat at odds with each other, the following value labels: intimidating, humorous, aggressive, judgmental, friendly, and attractive.


Annnd here I am. Being myself.

On page 75 of Sarah J. Tracy’s Qualitative Research Methods, she discusses the importance of leaving preconceived notions behind when entering the field and engaging with participants. This, I think, makes sense. The list of basic self-categorization above, though slightly more comprehensive than what people perceive at first glance, certainly does not encompass all I am; my passions, hobbies, likes and dislikes. Neither, it stands to reason, will a basic list of information on the participants do so.

Let’s say, for example, that I conducted a study on the homeless population of Portland, Or. Let’s say that my chosen field of observation was the Blanchet House of Hospitality in downtown Portland, which serves three meals a day, Monday through Saturday to men, women and children.

The Blanchet House of Hospitality Dining Room

In this field, I would have a lot to take into consideration. Preconceived notions about the homeless and low-income persons must be dropped. I must be willing to overcome any shyness of awkwardness in order to properly immerse myself and observe. In order for participants to behave in an unconstrained way, I must be non-threatening and approachable, and I must be patient. Knowing that all assumptions must be checked prior to beginning, my only real preparation will be to the physical environment itself as will be the only predictable aspect. Likely, my state of dress will need to be casual in keeping with the environment. I will need to do my best to be disarming and friendly. The rest will be a process of trial and error, figuring out how best to integrate myself. Unfortunately, knowing what I am does nothing to help me determine who my participants are and what will and will not resonate with them.

*Response to Exercise 4.1 – Qualitative Research Methods, Sarah J. Tracy

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