Field Research

Review the assigned readings and skim through the readings listed for February 26th for examples of field research and ideas on the types of things one can learn by watching people use mobile media technologies.

This assignment will give you a chance to be a media anthropologist, exploring how people use mobile technologies in everyday life. It will allow you a taste of ‘participant observation,’ a very powerful research tool for cultural studies, as well as other disciplines like anthropology and sociology. It is also very important in creating innovative designs. The idea for your final project must stem from this observation, so choose your research site carefully (review instructions for final assignment here). A site that has nothing to do with the social justice issue you are designing an application for will likely not provide valuable data.

The final outcome of this assignment will be a 750-word report, which documents your observations and is expected to inform your final project (an app to address a social justice issue). If you include any citations they must be formatted in APA style and include a works cited list. Further details on this assignment are below and will be discussed in class. This will be due March 16 at 11pm.  

Classify the posted report in the category: “Field Research”

Please read through the following set of directions before beginning the project. If you have any questions regarding the assignment, please feel free to email me.

1. Assignment directions

Your assignment is to spend at least two hours observing uses of mobile media in public spaces (one or more, but you should spend two continuous hours on your observations). In class on February 26th we well spend time discussing the ins and outs of field research. Your reports are due March 16th at 11pm on WordPress.

Field sites might include stores, cafes, markets, malls, public transit, work settings (including your own), sporting events, concerts, bars/clubs, activist events, classrooms, etc. You may choose a Philadelphia-based location or go further afield. Make sure you choose a site and time where and when you will be safe.

You may attend your site alone, or accompanied by one or more friends, dates, family members or other acquaintances. Please bear in mind that if you conduct fieldwork while being accompanied by a member of the class, you cannot both report on the same environment observed at the same time. (One of the purposes of this rule is to prevent students from handing in the same assignment, a problem in past courses.)

Fieldwork strategies: In some ways, fieldwork is just like life, only more examined. (1) Pay attention, because culture happens EVERYWHERE. (2) When observing people in public, imagine you are working a camera for a film: sometimes you will take a wide view, and slowly pan across the scene, taking everything in; at other times you will focus on one person, or a group conversation. Don’t be afraid to try different viewpoints to see what works best. (3) Try to listen in on and remember eavesdropped conversations, and encounters and/or remarks made to you by strangers. Carry around a small notepad, or index cards, and quickly jot down brief notes to yourself when you have a convenient opportunity to do so. (4) If people ask you why you have a notebook, don’t be afraid to tell them you are working on an assignment for a class. Be honest, or perhaps coy, but never lie: it’s simply not necessary. (5) Most importantly, always try to be conscious of your own experience in the moment. In other words, don’t be afraid to observe yourself.

2. Writing up your assignment

Your write-up of your field notes should be 750 words (minimum) and will be turned in as a blog post on WordPress. You should write up your assignment either immediately after you return home, or at least within 24 hours of your visit, because even if you remember the main things you noticed, if you wait too long you will forget the fine details that make participant observation worthwhile.

What should you include in your notes?

  1. First, describe the space– Where is it? How big is it? Are there advertisements? What are the advertisements for? Are there any aspects of the space that contribute to or encourage mobile media use (ex. wifi access, QSR codes, ads for social media, etc.)?
  2. Next, who is there? What kinds of people are in this place? Observe the people: what do they look like? What is their likely age, gender, race, etc (but be aware that you will only be guessing and can never determine these identifiers for certain)? What are they wearing? What does their hair/makeup/jewelry/tattoos etc look like? Where are they? Are they alone, in pairs or groups? And, very importantly, what are they doing? What types of mobile media devices are being used and by which people?
  3. How do people interact with one another and with the mobile devices? Can you tell what mobile media forms people are using? How do the devices and applications shape how they interact with each other? Be specific by recalling examples from your trip.
  4. What happened while you were there? Describe incidents that you through were particularly characteristic of the space, or interesting about peoples’ use of mobile media during your observations.
  5. How does the site connect to the social justice issue you are designing an app for? What ideas for your design project do your observations lead to? What kinds of devices or applications seem necessary, possible, interesting, based on interactions you observed in the space?

A few final hints

It is interesting to pay attention to things that don’t conform to expectations- are there things or uses of mobile media that are “out of place” in the space? Or people who aren’t acting as you expect them to or using mobile media you wouldn’t expect? Deviations from the expected norm often tell us a great deal about those norms and what holds them in place.

Remember as you write, you are submitting observations not a paper. You don’t need to worry developing an argument, and will not be graded for grammar and spelling – but please remember that eventually someone else will be reading your notes, and so you will want to clean up your draft before submitting it so it makes sense to your reader. If your submission is unreadable it will get a zero.

Also, if you refer to individuals by name in your report, please remember to change their names before submitting your assignment in order to protect their identities. And above all, show respect for those you observe. Any reports submitted that include insulting, hurtful, or bigoted language or characterizations will only receive partial credit and will be deleted from WordPress.

Finally, don’t be afraid to speak in your own voice. There are a million ways to do this. Every ethnographer has a different style, and I encourage you to write in a manner that feels most natural to you.

3. Instructions for submitting your assignment

You should both submit your 750-word minimum report to WordPress by March 16th at 11pm.

4. Ethics of fieldwork

Fieldwork can be fun, but it also demands responsibility on the part of researchers. Please keep in mind that responsible social science practice requires close attention to a code of ethics that insists that we should treat the people we meet in the field with dignity and care, and in our writes-ups it is important to treat our informants fairly. This does not mean we cannot be critical of what we witness in the world, but it does require us to report our observations with honesty and accuracy. Also, please remember that we are responsible not only for the safety of others, but our own safest as well. Please try to seek out populated and therefore safe areas for your observations. I encourage you to study environments where you will feel comfortable and already possess a reasonable degree of familiarity.

Good luck!!



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