I recently embarked on a journey I’ve been silently wishing to undertake for many years; I’ve started graduate study.
It’s a bit of a mouthful: Master of Science in Socia Science Research Methods, specialising in sociology. What that essentially means is that I’m learning the skills and methodology needed to be a great researcher.
One of the modules I’m particularly enjoying is ethnography, or what I like to call, people watching. To use an official definition, “observing directly the behaviour of a social group and producing a written description”.
I feel liberated in being given permission to watch people and make an account of what is happening socially, not just because I’m nosy, but because this is science.
The convenors restructured the course a couple of years ago, because they found that whilst they’d produced students who could write excellent essays about what it means to do ethnographic research, they lacked the skills and experience to actually do ethnography. So our assignment is essentially to produce a short ethnography from observations made in a public space. Rather exciting!
The funny thing about ethnographic research is that in certain situations it can make you appear a little strange. If I were to take a notebook and pen with me to my running club and say I was jotting down the goings on, I’d probably be socially ostracised from the group. Of course, for most ethnographies there are formal procedures of getting permissions so the researched would know my role and allow me my eccentricities. But for this little assignment, it’s not needed, as we are just drawing a few observations from public spaces. Of course, the really handy thing about doing ethnography now is that in most social settings today, it is completely acceptable to be on your phone, so I can take notes without people realising what I’m doing. It makes me feel a little bit like a spy, on a secret mission.
I’ll let you know my findings!