Collaborative Ethnnographic Research and Television Audiences

Last week I interviewed my father about his memories of television when he was growing up. Reading and reflecting  upon the interviews the rest of the BCM240 cohort did, there were a number of reoccurring themes: change in the family dynamic (the television became the center of the household in which the family would gather around toward), greater awareness of the wider world (significant events from around the world were broadcast into people’s homes, such as the moon landing, and didn’t have to wait to read about it in the newspaper the next day) and new technologies (the introduction of television and other digital devices).

As a part of this subject, we have been looking at ethnographic research which focuses on the study of people and cultures – usually “observing users in their natural, real-world setting” with the aim to “understand how people live; what they do; how they do things or what they need in their everyday lives” (Government United Kingdom, 2016).

Ethnographic research can be an effective data collection method to provide an insight into how the integration of technology into people’s lives has changed the dynamics of family life. Strengths include:

  • Identifying unexpected issues – qualitative data can help reveal themes and relationships through observation, interviews and other methods, unlike quantitative methods which will be more difficult to interpret
  • Investigating complex issues – ethnographic research is well suited to studies that allow the participants to speak for themselves rather than be represented by a statistic
  • Providing a voice – ethnography is a window into a culture to understand what the group does and why. This allows individiausl a part of the culture to speak about their views and perspectives that may usually be silenced by more dominant cultures

This type of research does have some weaknesses that may result in skewed results, including:

  • Timeliness – ethnographic studies can take a significant amount of time to conduct due to the time required to analyse findings
  • Inconsistencies – subjects may act differently when observed for the study (this can be due to trust in the researcher)
  • Validity – the subjects must be a true reflection of the larger audience group they represent by being honest with the researcher

So, what does this have to do with television memory research? When I interviewed my father, it was clear his interaction with television was both very similar and also different to those of my peers (when we discussed it in class). This is collaborative ethnography in which we “invite commentary from our consultants” and “pulls together threads of collaboration” (Lassiter, L, 2005) in order to see a wider picture of the culture that is being observed. By comparing similarities and differences greater conclusions can be made – there isn’t just one diffinative answer when it comes to collaborative ethnographic research.

What I drew from the blogs of my peers is that television became the “centrepiece of the house” and became a way to see the world from their loungeroom, with signicant events such as the moon landing in 1969, as Sasha’s dad talks about in her blog post. Many families had their own “traditions” when it came to television. Eliza’s interview revealed that television changed the behaviour of people, “people began to stay at home to watch television rather than going out”. This highlights the significance of collaborative ethnographic reseatch. Whilst quantitative data would give you numbers, the quantitative research will provide an insight into the thought process and experiences behind the numbers. This means that the research process is more extensive, expensive and will take longer but the will result in a more accurate view at the group of people being observed.

 

Government United Kingdom (2016) Getting input into products and services. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/service-manual/user-centred-design/user-research/ethnographic-research.html (Accessed: 14 August 2016).
Lassiter, L. (2005). The Chicago guide to collaborative ethnography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Huddle, J. (2016). Advantages & Disadvantages of Ethnographic Research http://www.ehow.com/facts_7603988_advantages-disadvantages-ethnographic-research.html (Accessed: 22 August 2016)
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