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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Gina S Neff
COM 513
Seattle Campus

Fieldwork Research Methods

Methods of fieldwork research in communication studies, with emphasis on participant observation, ethnography, and discourse analysis.

Class description

This course will provide an overview of key epistemological issues, challenges, and strategies entailed in conducting fieldwork research. Fieldwork methods are employed in many disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, education, and science and technology studies. Readings and discussions will draw on insights from scholars in several of these, but will focus on the study of communication-centered phenomena, broadly defined. In order to learn by doing, students will conduct participant observation research in a field of their choice each week during the quarter, and, by the end of the quarter, will produce an ethnographic account of socio-communicative behavior, sense-making, and/or meaning construction and sharing within that field, whether mediated or face-to-face. This account will be based on the close study of communication in a particular culture or community of practice, through extensive time at the site-- observing, talking with culture/community members, taking notes, interviewing, and perhaps co-participating in activities alongside members of the culture. The class will meet once a week in order to allow students greater flexibility in conducting their fieldwork.

No class 11/17/2010 (NCA)

This course will be both fieldwork-intensive and writing-intensive, requiring many hours at the site and at the computer each week. Fieldwork and writing assignments will begin the first week of class and develop iteratively, building upon one another. Students will exchange and review fieldnotes within groups of 3-4, advise each other about the progress of their fieldwork, and provide written criticism of some of each other’s assignments and drafts.

Since the course is only 10 weeks long, students will optimize their learning if their field sites are selected, and whatever necessary access and permissions issues are negotiated, before fall quarter begins, including IRB approval if applicable. The default option will be to conduct field research for the course in a public space. If it is likely that data collected during this course will be useful for a student’s research publications in the future, approval from UW IRB must be sought before the quarter begins with assistance from the student’s faculty advisor.

Course readings will include most of these books, and a set of articles that explore a range of issues associated with the collection and analysis of the forms of data generated through fieldwork: Atkinson et al (Eds.) Handbook of Ethnography, Sage, 2007. Carbaugh, Donal, Cultures in Conversation, LEA, 2005. Denzin, Norman K, and Lincoln, Yvonna S. eds., Strategies of Qualitative Inquiry, Sage 2008. Fetterman, David M. Ethnography: step by step. Newbury Park, Ca.: Sage 2nd edition, 1997. Jorgensen, Danny, Participant Observation: A Methodology for Human Studies, Sage, 1989. Lindlof, Thomas, and Taylor, Bryan Copeland, Qualitative Communication Research Methods, Sage, 2002. Miles, Matthew, and Huberman, Michael, Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook, 2nd Edition, Sage, 1994. Van Maanen, John, Tales of the Field: On Writing Ethnography, University of Chicago, 1988.

Students will also be expected to read and comparatively analyze their choice of two book-length, communication-relevant ethnographies, selected from this list or elsewhere (with instructor approval): Baym, Nancy, Tune in, Log On: Soaps, Fandom, and Online Community, Sage, 2000. Banet-Weiser, Sarah, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity, UC, 1999. Boczkowski, Pablo, Digitizing the News, MIT, 2004. Boellstorff, Tom. Coming of Age in Second Life, Princeton, 2008. Brende, Eric, Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, Harper Collins, 2004. Grindstaff, Laura, The Money Shot: Trash, Class, and the Making of TV Talk Shows, Chicago, 2002. Gray, Mary L. Out in the Country: Youth, Media and Queer Visibility in Rural America, NYU, 2009. Grazian, David, On the Make: The Hustle of Urban Nightlife, Chicago, 2007. Heath, Shirley Brice, Ways with Words: Language, Life, and Work in Communities and Classrooms, Cambridge, 1983. Malaby, Thomas, Making Virtual Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life, Cornell, 2009 Maira, Sunaina Marr, Desis in the House: Indian American Youth Culture in New York City, Temple, 2002. Manalansan, Martin, Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora, Duke, 2003. Miller, Daniel, and Slater, Don, The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach, Berg, 2001. Mische, Ann, Partisan Politics: Communication and Contention Across Brazilian Youth Networks, Princeton, 2007. Moffett, Michael, Coming of Age in New Jersey, Rutgers, 1989. Pearce, Celia, and Artemesia, Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds, MIT, 2009. Taylor, T.L., Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture, MIT, 2006. Vasquez, Olga, Pease-Alveraz, Lucinda, and Shannon, Sheila, Pushing Boundaries: Language and Culture in a Mexicano Community, UC, 1994. Whyte, William Foote, Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian Slum, Chicago, 1955/1993.

Finally, each student will be assigned to do more extensive reading on one of the following topics, in order to generate a brief literature review for the benefit of the class: • Developing a robust corpus of fieldnotes • Analyzing interview data • Ethnographic interviewing/listening • Writing ethnographic accounts • Interpreting symbolic communication • Triangulating data • Online ethnography • Collaborative ethnography • Analyzing fieldnotes • Multi-sited ethnography

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Gina S Neff
Date: 05/13/2010