Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Participant Observation

I had what should have been a long day today – four two-hour classes, back to back, straight from 9 am to 5 pm.  But the final class of the day was an active class on participant observation, during which we were sent out into campus and told to identify an issue/topic/problem and try to collect some ethnographic data on it.
My group and I headed straight for the door of the main Arts Learning Hub (central office), and took note of the apparent sex, nationality, and staff/student affiliation of people walking through the doors.  We also noted down whether or not people used the mobility access button to have the doors open automatically or held the door open for others.  With over 100 individuals in about thirty minutes, we almost certainly misclassified some of them (I had some staff vs. student debates, and I’m sure some of the people we wrote down as British were, in fact, American or from somewhere else in Europe.
We came back together as a group to discuss the issues we’d faced and the benefits or drawbacks of ethnography and participant observation.  I frantically analyzed data, which I had been recording in Excel.  Approximately 35% of people used the button, even though none of them seemed to have mobility concerns.  Use of the button was pretty well spread across age and sex, but British individuals seemed far more likely to use it.  (Of course, it’s very possible they were also far more likely to know where it was and be accustomed to having an automatic door opener at every door).
Anyways, that was a fun and fairly light-hearted way to end a day discussing oceanic sulphate emissions, human capital investment concerns, and Gambian conceptions of reproduction.  I am now off to have an authentic Chinese dinner, cooked by Yarui, a student who was hoping to swap accommodation with me but is still living in Mary Chapman Court and has actually come to find he really likes it.

1 comment:

  1. That does sound like fun! I have observed that the door openers at our library are most frequently used by young people with no discernible
    mobility issues. I only use it on days when my wrist is feeling particularly bad and I have a load of books in my other hand. Of course, I must admit that I do take advantage of my parking sticker, especially at the store!