Discuss what you understand by phenomenological and ethnographic research designs.
Phenomenological research design requires the researcher to bracket whatever a priori assumption they have about the experience or phenomenon. In simpler terms, researchers use phenomenological research designs to understand a phenomenon’s universal nature by exploring the views of those who have experienced it. Ethnography and phenomenology are two detailed, qualitative research studies that are used in the field of social sciences. Ethnography is the systematic study of people and cultures whereas phenomenology is the study of subjective, lived experiences and perspectives of participants. The essay seeks to discuss phenomenological and ethnographic research designs.
Definition of key terms
Research design refers to the overall strategy utilized to carry out research that defines a succinct and logical plan to tackle established research question through the collection, interpretation, analysis, and discussion of data (Lambert, 2010)
Ethnographic research design
Ethnography, according to Thomas (2003:35) is a special kind of method in qualitative research in which “the researcher, over a period of time, participates in the activities of the people, organization, or event being investigated”.
This definition clarifies ethnography as a method which put a great emphasis on the role of the researcher as an inseparable instrument of the research. Moreover, Hammersley (1990) in Stephens (2009:50) shows that ethnography is a set of methods which studies the phenomenon with some sort of approaches used in everyday life context.
Therefore, to make sense of the surrounding phenomenon, ethnography method insists researcher to involve them self and study the phenomenon in natural setting everyday life context, rather than under experimental conditions created by the researcher. Related to culture, ethnography is defined as an attempt to describe culture (Bogdan & Biklen, 2007:30). Furthermore, Spradley (1979:3) describes ethnography as a work of describing cultures and aimed to learn from people rather than studying people. Spradley tries to highlight ethnography as a work to understand another way of life from the native point of view.
Thomas (2003:35) clearly shows that in ethnographic research, over a period of time a researcher has to involve them self in every activity of the people, group, or event, which is being investigated. Atkinson and Hammersley (2007:3) strengthen this statement by mentioning the role of ethnographer, that is to participate overtly or covertly, in people’s daily lives for an extended period of time, watching what happens, listening to what is said, asking questions in fact collecting whatever data are available to throw light on the issues that are the focus of research.
People’s behaviour is studied in everyday contexts, rather than under conditions created by the researcher, such as in experiment. Data are gathered from a range of sources, but observation and/or relatively informal conversations are usually the main ones. The approach to data collection is ‘unstructured’, in the sense that it does not involve following through a detailed plan set up at the beginning. The focus is usually a small number of cases, perhaps a single setting or group of people of relatively small scale. The analysis of the data involves the interpretation of the meanings and functions of human actions and mainly takes the form of verbal descriptions and explanations, with quantification and statistical analysis playing a subordinate role at most.
Wolcott (1999) states that ethnographic research procedures require three things; a detailed description of the culture-sharing group being studied, an analysis of this group in terms of perceived themes or perspectives and some interpretation of the group by the researcher as to meanings and generalization about the social life of human beings, in general.
Atkinson and Hammersley (2007:25) state that research problem in ethnography depends on the resources available to the researcher and what are relevant here are not just external resources like time and funds but also personal ones such as background knowledge, social characteristics and circumstances. Many of early data analysis is concerned with formulating and reformulating the research problem in a way that make it more fruitful or more amenable to investigate. Generally, ethnographers seldom initiate their research with precise hypotheses. They attempt to understand an ongoing situation or set of activities that cannot be predicted in advance. Most ethnographic research, however, has been concerned with producing descriptions and explanations of particular phenomena, or with developing theories, rather than with testing hypotheses (Atkinson & Hammersley, 2007:21).
Atkinson and Hammersley (2007:199) write that ethnographer draws on and elicits narratives as ‘data’ and recasts them in the narrative of scholarly writing. Narrative mode is especially appropriate to the character of ethnographic inquiry. Data in ethnographic research are gathered from a range of sources, but observation and/or relatively informal conversations are usually the main ones (Atkinson & Hammersley, 2007:3). Ethnographer can use records or videos as a form of data. Moreover, Genzuk (2003:8) mentions some site documents can be used by the researcher as research data: advertisements, work descriptions, annual reports, memos, school records, teaching materials, newsletters, websites, and many other kinds of written items. However, Genzuk also reminds that not every research has site documents.
Ethnographic research can reveal characteristics shared among members of group. The characteristics render the group’s culture distinctive; thereby helping consumers of the research understand how and why one group differs from another. Ethnographic research can also expose the internal operations of a group or organization. It can be done by identifying the relative influence of different members, tracing routes of communication, suggesting the origins of the group’s activities, showing how people achieve their status, and identifying the sanctions applied to ensure that members abide the group standards.
Denzin (1997:3) in Thomas (2003:37) explains some limitations of ethnographic research: There is no ‘objective truth’ in ethnographic research. What an ethnographer may refer as ‘what really happened’ is inevitably an interpretation filtered through their particular mental magnifying glass. The same event may result in different versions by different ethnographers. Conclusions drawn from the ethnographic study of one group can be applied to other groups only at considerable peril because of the unique conditions that may determine the pattern of life in each setting. The intimate relationship between participant and observer may lessen the objectivity of perception. On the other hand, if an ethnographer fails to engage intimate relationship with the group, they are apt to convey an inaccurate picture of what life in that environment means to the people of the society.
Phenomenological research design
The purpose of the phenomenological approach is to illuminate the specific, to identify phenomena through how they are perceived by the actors in a situation. In the human sphere this normally translates into gathering ‘deep’ information and perceptions through inductive, qualitative methods such as interviews, discussions and participant observation, and representing it from the perspective of the research participant(s). Phenomenology is concerned with the study of experience from the perspective of the individual, bracketing taken for granted assumptions and usual ways of perceiving. Epistemologically, phenomenological approaches are based in a paradigm of personal knowledge and subjectivity, and emphasise the importance of personal perspective and interpretation. As such they are powerful for understanding subjective experience, gaining insights into people’s motivations and actions, and cutting through the clutter of taken for granted assumptions and conventional wisdom. Phenomenological research has overlaps with other essentially qualitative approaches including ethnography, hermeneutics and symbolic interactionism.
Pure phenomenological research seeks essentially to describe rather than explain, and to start from a perspective free from hypotheses or preconceptions (Husserl 1970). More recent humanist and feminist researchers refute the possibility of starting without preconceptions or bias, and emphasise the importance of making clear how interpretations and meanings have been placed on findings, as well as making the researcher visible in the ‘frame’ of the research as an interested and subjective actor rather than a detached and impartial observer (e.g. see Plummer 1983, Stanley & Wise 1993). Phenomenological methods are particularly effective at bringing to the fore the experiences and perceptions of individuals from their own perspectives, and therefore at challenging structural or normative assumptions. Adding an interpretive dimension to phenomenological research, enabling it to be used as the basis for practical theory, allows it to inform, support or challenge policy and action
The phenomenological research methodology is associated with some approaches that, in turn, are applied to single cases or to the deliberate samples that are selected. With such individual studies, it is easier to identify issues that show discrepancies, failures, favorable inferences, and attention to distinct situations while conducting management research (Groenewald 2004).
On the contrary, in research that involves multiple participants, it is easier to note the strength of inferences that are heightened by the rapidly occurring actors with more than one participant. Consequently, it becomes increasingly easier to distinguish between qualitative and statistical validity when phenomenological research methodology is used (Smith, 2015 pg. 121).
Also, this research methodology is significant in indicating the presence of factors and their implications in distinct contexts of cases, but; it only applies in situations where the experimental approach has been used in suggesting the extent to which the population from which the participants or examples were drawn. What’s essential with phenomenological research methodology, it is easier to provide detailed comments on the situations of individuals that otherwise do not lend themselves to direct generalization, just the same way the survey research is conducted (Schutz, 2021).
Phenomenological studies make detailed comments about individual situations which do not lend themselves to direct generalisation in the same way which is sometimes claimed for survey research. The development of general theories (i.e. which apply to situations beyond the participants or cases which have been studied) from phenomenological findings needs to be done transparently if it is to have validity; in particular, the reader should be able to work through from the findings to the theories and see how the researcher has arrived at his or her interpretations. This may or may not involve the researcher appearing ‘in person’ in the research (while this is beginning to happen in theses, academic papers and sometimes in organisational research, it is still rare in public ‘domain reports).
In summation, phenomenological research design requires the researcher to bracket whatever a priori assumption they have about the experience or phenomenon. In simpler terms, researchers use phenomenological research designs to understand a phenomenon’s universal nature by exploring the views of those who have experienced it. Ethnography and phenomenology are two detailed, qualitative research studies that are used in the field of social sciences. Ethnography is the systematic study of people and cultures whereas phenomenology is the study of subjective, lived experiences and perspectives of participants. The essay has discussed phenomenological and ethnographic research designs.
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