How can collaborative ethnographic research be used to analyse contemporary media use in the home? This is the question that I will attempt to answer in this blog, but first, what is ethnographic research? According to the Oxford Dictionaries (2015), ethnography is “the scientific description of peoples and cultures with their customs, habits, and mutual differences.”
Now, what is collaborative ethnographic research?
Lassiter (2005) says that ethnography itself can be defined as collaborative, but what sets collaborative ethnography apart from regular ethnography is that the researcher and their subjects meet at every level of the “ethnographic process, without veiling it – from project conceptualisation, to fieldwork, and, especially, through the writing process.” In essence, the researcher/s invites his/their subjects and consultants to directly add to the ethnographic text by incorporating their direct commentary, resulting in a co-conceived text written with collaborators from the local community, which in the end will create a text for multiple audiences, not a text that is solely limited to academic institutions or local constituencies (Lassiter 2005).
Is this kind of research possible for the analysis of contemporary media use in the home? It is hard to say, as quantitative research is favoured over qualitative research in this area. Take for example the study conducted by Nie and Hillygus into the impact of the internet on people’s social lives. Nie and Hillygus were interested in the debate on whether the internet enhanced or inhibited sociability, and so, decided to conduct a study that could possibly put an end to the argument. Their study showed that the displacement hypothesis had a greater bearing, their research revealing that “the more time spent on the Internet at home the less time spent with friends, family and on social activities (Nie & Hillygus 2005, pg. 11).”
Nie and Hillygus took a quantitative approach in this study by utilising what is called a time diary, involving the members of a family to fill out a short survey every week, asking them to detail six specific hours during the day and whether they were interacting with family members/friends or whether they were accessing the internet. This method of study is very impersonal and does not factor into collaborative ethnography at all, but, quantitative methods are favoured by some researchers and companies because it is much easier to look at and act on collected data distributed across graphs rather than spending masses of time interacting with people face-to-face, collecting field notes that detail the lives of these individuals.
The avenue of research, in the end, dictates what type of research methodologies you will use to obtain data. Because collaborative ethnography involves researcher and subject working in tandem, qualitative research methods work much better in its framework as qualitative research involves “examining the personal meanings of individuals’ experiences and actions in the context of their social and cultural environment (Qualitative Research Methods, pg. 197).” An example of what qualitative research might look like would include the subject of my last blog post, involving an interview with my dad on his memories of television from childhood days. We collaborated throughout the process by Tim giving me access to his memories which I worked into a blog post before we edited the final product, adding information he had forgotten to include during the initial interview.
In terms of using collaborative ethnographic research to analyse contemporary media, I would say it depends on the type of research you are conducting and what you want to reveal. If you simply want to measure how much time people spend on devices, then quantitative methods would probably be best. But because collaborative ethnography is more concerned with culture and people’s customs, habits, and differences, than qualitative research methods would be more appropriate. But you shouldn’t discount quantitative research either, it is better to think of the two as harmonising in that together they can help to form a better understanding of a research area (Qualitative Research Methods, pg. 196). In the end, it all comes down to what you want to discover and what is the best method for discovering it.
Lassiter, L.E. 2005, The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethonography, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Nie, N.H., Hillygus, D.S. 2002, ‘The Impact of Internet Use on Sociability: Time-Diary Findings,’ IT&Society, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 01-20.
Oxford University Press 2015, Ethnography, Oxford Dictionaries, viewed 12 August 2015, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/ethnography
‘Qualitative Research Methods,’ Mother and Child Health: Research Methods, pp. 196-211.