ISSR Methodology Workshop | Participant Observation and Ethnographic Fieldnotes

Participant observation line drawing
Wednesday, October 16, 2019 - 2:30pm to 4:30pm
E20 Machmer Hall | UMass Amherst

Instructor: Erica Kowsz

Incorporating ethnographic methods offers a way for researchers from a wide array of disciplines to include close observation of everyday life in their overall data collection plans. Carrying out ethnographic research involves three distinct tasks:

(1) the ethnographer gains entry to a social setting related to their research questions, and decides on ways to both participate and observe what happens there;

(2) the ethnographer writes down, in regular and systematic ways, what he or she learns and observes at the “field site” (in the social setting that is the focus of the research), often employing preliminary analytical and memo-ing practices to track the development of the fieldwork;

(3) then, when the data is collected, the ethnographer revisits their fieldnotes for analysis and writing of the product of research.

This workshop is designed to give an overview of all three of these stages and provide some strategies for organizing your data across the life of your project, whether that is a semester-long “first fieldwork” experience or two years of immersive fieldwork. We will briefly review the basics of participant observation and writing fieldnotes before moving on to research strategies: How can you keep your fieldnotes organized and keep track of your insights while you’re in the field? How will you draw themes from your data? How will you use your ethnographic fieldnotes alongside other data sources (e.g. interview transcripts, media coverage, historical sources)?

Who is this workshop for?

Have you considered including an ethnographic component in your research, but you’re not sure where to start? Are you already a practicing ethnographic fieldworker, but you’re looking for new ideas when it comes to organizing and analyzing your data? Maybe you’re considering moving from pen and paper to qualitative data analysis software that can hold video and audio recordings as well text. This workshop will have something to offer to all of these audiences. If you already have some fieldnotes in hand, bring them! If you don’t, bring your research questions and tentative plans.


ISSR Methodology Consultants are generously supported by the Graduate School at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.