Notes on Spradley's
Steve Borgatti, Boston College
- Ideal situation is to be student or apprentice. Is right posture, and informant
actively organizes info for you.
- Is process of socialization, acculturation, learning
- Ethnographic inquiry makes use of many of the same processes that natives
of culture use to learn their own culture, which is to say "to grow up"
Discussion issue: Spradley seems to think that it is ok and indeed
desirable to do research that actively helps your informants. Oppression of
jails. Plight of the gypsies. Doesn't this remove objectivity? Cancian: we must
empower our respondents and challenge the power structures that oppress them.
Liberating commercial sex workers and pornography stars.
- Language learning is the cornerstone of fieldwork. specialized jargon, slang, argot,
dialects. Example: making a flop.
- Small groups, like tramps, develop own culture, which includes language. have to be
bicultural and bilingual with the mainstream culture. ethnographer must do the same, in
- Editorial note: But beware of inauthenticity. Adopting language/style of
informants within one's own culture can be seen as instrumental and phony
- Ethnocentric descriptions are etic. By using emic terms, can minimize ethnocentrism.
- Editorial notes: Still, the objective of all ethnography in the end is translation: write down their
culture in terms you and your colleagues can understand.
- Spradley is totally emic. Misses the notion that ethnography can be etic
and that etic can be very useful. Both are needed..
- Life histories are very useful. Very revealing, and easy to collect. Often a good
starting point. People often like to talk about themselves.
- Continuum: subjects respondents informants experts.
- In ethnographic work, there is a balance between respect for respondent and
assumption that her representation of reality is True. The consulting fallacy.
- Jean's book. politics of treating informant as equal.
- Pg. 30 : differences between subjects and informants.
- Confusion with normal roles: suddenly going naive on your friend.
HOW TO DO RESEARCH
- Choose informants with thorough enculturation. They know their own culture well. Culturally competent.
- Choose informants with current involvement. Not retired from that lifestyle or culture
- Choose cultural scene unfamiliar to researcher. Three reasons: 1, prevents taking things for granted, makes
them sensitive. 2. analysis of familiar is difficult. becomes superficial. can't find
anything of interest. see no point in writing down the obvious. Or worse,
you deliberately "complexify" and "problematize" the mundane. 3. can't sincerely ask
dumb questions. people think you are putting them on.
- Choose informants with adequate time to be an informant. Must be available!
- Choose informants who are non-analytic. i.e., not versed in researcher culture. just repeat back researcher's
culture. great ex. on pg 53.
Discussion issue: Spradley seems to think the ideal situation is to study a
completely alien culture. This differs somewhat from Bartunek's view, does it
not? Spradley's view is interesting because his orientation is totally emic --
to understand things from the insider's point of view, but he thinks this is
best done by an outsider.
An interview is a specific speech event, separate from conversation, lecture, job
Characteristics of an ethnographic interview:
- There is an explicit purpose that comes from the ethnographer.
- Interviewer provides framing explanations. 1. what project is about. 2. what i'm doing right now -- writing
things down. 3. asking for native language. 4. what kinds of questions i'm asking now.
- Three types of ethnographic questions. 1. descriptive (what do you do all day at the office?). 2.
structured (domains, paradigms, attributes, relations, items). 3. contrast (what's the
difference between bass and pike?)
- Asymmetrical turn taking rather than sharing.
- Repeating and restating (also known as active listening)
- Expressing interest
- Expressing ignorance
- Encouragement to expand rather than abbreviate responses
- Incorporating informants terms without mocking
- Use of hypotheticals. E.g., "if we were standing in the bar now, what
would it be like?"
Need to be able to deal with embarrassment. Be able to say things like "A moment ago, you described your
acquaintance Charlie as "an asshole". Are there different kinds of assholes?"
Making an ethnographic record
Field notes, tape recordings, pictures, artifacts. (remember Goodwin?)
When writing notes, remember to identify which are your terms and which are informant
terms. Whenever possible obtain verbatims and don't unconsciously translate. many errors
here. later you find that you didn't get it at all.
Field notes are notes that you write up at the end of each day of
interviewing. It helps give you some distance and also begin synthesizing and
assimilating. Makes you a better observer and interviewer the next day.
Once you start the analysis, will also have coding notes and theoretical notes.
1. Repeated explanations and framings of what you are doing and asking about
2. Restating embodies non-judgmental attitude which contributes to rapport.
3. Where possible don't ask for meaning (why ... , what do you mean by ... ), ask for
usage. It's not that you don't want meaning, it is just that sometimes
explicitly asking for meaning implies justify, explain better, be better at being informant.
So it can be better to
ask what would you say if x was different, or what other kinds of situations would be
described that way?
Basic types are:
- Grand tour. a. would you describe the inside of a jail for me? b. what's a typical
night at the bar like? c. What happened last night? d. show me around the office. e. can
you play a game of backgammon and tell what you are doing as you do it?
- Mini tour. smaller unit of experience. Tell me what happens in a phone call.
- Example questions. What's an example of "blowing it" ?
- Experience. What are some of the experiences you've had working with professors?
- Native language questions. How would people normally refer to getting drunk?
Analyzing Interviews - what to look for
- Learn the cultural referents of words and concepts. E.g., what every person
in the culture "knows" about
mice. [Note that these are stylized cultural "facts" -- not objective
truths.] Children like them. Adult females and elephants scared of them. Mouse
traps used to get rid of them. Theme park
and cartoons use mice as characters. Mice are subjects of scientific experiments in medicine.
Get rich building a better mousetrap. There's only a few things, but they are
not given in the dictionary definition of mouse. Yet anyone that is culturally
literate knows them and assumes that others know them.
- Categories/domains. In cultural worlds, things are grouped. There are categories within categories,
and relationships between
categories. Boys is a category, so is girls, and they contrast when seen as
elements of larger domain of children.
- Special category of relations among categories are sequential relations
like months of the year, steps in a wedding, stages in a life.
Making a Domain Analysis
- Select a semantic relationship such as "causes" or "is a kind of"
- Select a sample of informant statements. I.e., choose a corpus to analyze.
- Search out words or phrases that could be parts of a category (e.g.,
marked linguistically as a list, as in "first of all there, there are Xs. Then
there are Ys and Zs..."), and search out possible cover terms.
these are domains.
- Formulate structural questions for each domain. Testing hypotheses about relations
between domains and domains and items. Like: "Are there different kinds of parties?"
it is a domain. Then ask "what kinds of parties are there?"
Structural questions don't occur as often as descriptive questions in normal conversation, so
they require more framing. They also tend to elicit lists, so you need to ask many times
(repetition) to get all the items in the list.
Remember to ask for a cultural perspective in addition to a personal
perspective. Fundamentally, you want to know what flavors of ice cream are
recognized in the culture, not just the ones that your informant likes -- you
are not really writing a book about the informant but rather her culture.
- Verification & elicitation questions
- verification of hypotheses. Is a hotel lobby a kind of flop?
- domain verification. Are there different kinds of assholes? What are the different
- included term verification. is X an illegal activity?
- semantic relationship verification. would people here ever say something like
"dancing IS life?" or "dancing is like life?"
- Frame substitution. start with real sentence like "you get a lot of assholes in
finance" . Then ask, can you think of any other terms that go in that sentence instead of assholes? you get a lot of _____ in finance. (can do this systematically by
giving them list of terms to choose from).
- Card sorts. write phrases or words on cards. then lay them out and ask the questions
above. can ask which ones are similar.
Folk taxonomy is set of categories (domains) organized on a single semantic
relationshisp, such as "a kind of".
Great example of organization at police dept. on page 140.
Need to test your taxonomies against informants.
Find out how a given symbol (word, event, construct) is different from others. This is
how to discover dimensions of meaning.
What does "man" contrast with? (god, dogs), woman, boy, wimp,
- dyadic comparisons: what differences are there between these?
- triadic. which is the most different? shark seal dog
- sorting cards.
Componential analysis systematic search fro the attributes or features of cultural
symbols that distinguish them from others and give them meaning. The basic idea in
componential analysis is that all items in a domain can be decomposed into combinations of
semantic features which combine to give the item meaning. This is a perspective that was
first developed in linguistics. [go see handout on this]
- does EASY TIME
- moves FREELY
- does TRUSTY TIME
- has chances to RABBIT
- lives in TRUSTY TANK
- is needed by BULLS
- has more ways to HUSTLE
- does WORK
pg 178 compares with drunks, lockups, kickouts, etc.
- select contrast set (set of items)
- inventory all contrast features; select binary ones
- collapse closely related dimensions to create multichotomies
- conduct new interviews to elicit missing data and suggest new dimensions
The componential approach, together with the assumption of analogical processes is the
basis for Levi-Straussian analysis of stories and culture in
Theme is a postulate or position, declared or implied, which is tacitly approved and
promoted in a society. It's an organizing principle, such as, for Apache culture, Men are morally
superior to Women. Or for our culture, Men are sexual predators, from whom women and
children must be protected. Ruth benedict: cultures are not trashbins of memes but
rather coherent: complex patterns whose components are interrelated.
Theme is a cognitive principle on which other things rest. Can be TACIT or EXPLICIT.
Most are tacit, so one objective of ethnography is to reveal these hidden themes. They
also connect up different elements of a culture.
ME: You can also think of them as theories that explain (make coherent) large sections
of a culture).
- total immersion in culture
- make a cultural inventory
- make a componential analysis of all domains
- search for elements in common across all domains (e.g., sex and age distinctions)
- identify organizing domains -- ones that strongly pattern behavior, such as stages in
911 calls, or making a bucket.
- make schematic of cultural scene: matching rooms to activities in the booking of tramp
sequence, or how central theme relates to aspects of tramp's life.
- use generic (etic) keys (often functional): social conflict, inequality, cultural
contradictions, techniques of social control, managing interpersonal relations, acquiring
status, solving problems, subsistence technology,