Field Observation of a Portland Neighborhood


The material below is meant to complement the text by providing additional information about ethnography, a type of field observation.  Chapter 11 of City Lights also provides a discussion of this topic.

Ethnography is the study of people, focusing on their behavior, relationships, and attitudes.  "Ethno" means "people," and "graphy" means "record."  Thus, "ethnography" is, literally, the recording of the behavior of people, or human beings.

Ethnomethodology is a qualitative method which has been derived from anthropological methods developed at the turn of the century. The method may involve participant observation, whereby the researcher becomes very closely involved with the group under study. So, for example, a researcher interested in hooliganism by soccer fans might decide to attend soccer matches on a regular basis, and as far as possible become accepted by the group of fans under study.  To achieve this acceptance, the researcher may actually participate in the hooliganism himself/herself.   This methodology can also involve nonparticipant observation.  In this example, rather than trying to become part of the group of fans or trying to become accepted by them, the researcher remains on the side, does not participate, but rather records her/his observations.

Participant observation has certain pros and cons.

Nonparticipant observation similarly has pros and cons.

Observational Techniques and Tools

There are many ways to observe behavior or the type of or use of social space through participant or nonparticipant observation.

Researchers generally focus on the following:

There are also a number of ways to record your observations.  Here are the most common.

When observing how people interact in social settings, researchers may draw a social network map.  Here are some sophisticated examples:

Researchers may also take a symbolic interactionism focus, which looks at the meanings people attach to symbols, such as gestures (giving someone "the finger"), words ("fag"), etc.  Some common "symbols" I observe, in front of the class, are as follows:

The study of symbolic interactionism may involve recording gestures whose meanings are well understood or recording gestures and then assigning them meaning, based on the researcher's experience, literature review, and empirical study.


WARNING:  In all cases of observation, it is important to report your findings objectively, without value judgments.  What you observe is neither good nor bad.  It just is.

Doing the Assignment

Comparing Perspectives of the City

This assignment is based  p. 23 of City Lights.

You wll be assigned to a neighborhood based on your mentor session.

First meeting:

Field Observation (Note:  you may or may not actually meet as a group for this)

Second meeting:

Field Study Report

Questions?  Write me at