SOC121 Writing Assignment 1 Instructions 1
The goal of field observation is to obtain “thick descriptions” (as described by Clifford Geertz in The Interpretation of Cultures) of a setting or group from the perspective of the participants, and to explain what you observe using insights from the sociological perspective.
Observe the activities at a public place for two hours. Choose a place where you do not need to ask permission to stay and will not get in trouble for observing what is going on. This can be a coffee shop, a farmer’s market, a mall, a religious service, a train station, a courtroom, etc. Avoid schools, hospitals, anything on a military base, or any other restricted place. Make sure to go at a time when there will be a lot of activity. Take some notes about what is happening: What does this place look like? How is it organized spatially? Who comes here? What do they do? How do people interact with each other? What kind of conversations go on? Are there any subgroups? How do people handle unexpected or upsetting situations?
Write a narrative summary of your notes describing what you experienced. Then, explain how each of the three sociological perspectives (structural-functionalism, symbolic interactionism, and social conflict) would analyze what you say.
Your description of your observation should represent about 50% of your paper and your analysis another 50%, divided evenly between the three perspectives. At the end of your paper, discuss which perspective you think is the best suited to analyze your observation and why you think so. Whenever appropriate, link the information you present to concepts, theories, facts, and core values of “community and social justice” from the course.
You may use additional resources, provided they are appropriately cited. You are required to use the American Sociological Association (ASA) formatting style to format your paper and sources. Information on ASA is available in the course under Resources.
For additional information on plagiarism, click here to view a 15-minute video lesson by Dr. Patricia Campion. You will be prompted to enter your SLU Portal username and password to gain access to the video.
Once the video starts playing (may take a few minutes to load), forward it to Slide 28 titled, “Am I Plagiarizing? Why, or why not?” and view through Slide 195.
The paper will be a minimum of seven (7) pages in length and include a title page and a reference page, using a standard 12-point font. You may use additional resources, provided they are appropriately cited. You are required to use the American Sociological Association (ASA) formatting style to format your paper and sources. Information on ASA is available in the course under Resources.
This assignment is due no later than Sunday 11:59 PM EST/EDT of Module 4. This assignment will be automatically submitted to Turnitin via the Dropbox to verify its originality.
How to choose a setting or group: For this project, choose a group or setting that you have some knowledge of. Don’t be too ambitious. Avoid putting yourself and others at risk at all cost. Do not choose a setting or group that you are not comfortable with.
Before you start your project, think about potential risks (physical, emotional, legal). Most public settings are suitable and safe. Places to avoid include bathrooms, any places where illegal activity is likely to take place, or your own work setting (the potential for conflict, discomfort, and legal issues is too high). For groups, some groups you are involved in, such as sports teams, may work, but you have to think about how to balance your involvement with the group and your role as a researcher.
Put together a plan for your observations: How often are you going to observe? How long will the observation sessions last? You want to capture as much interesting behavior as possible, so take that into account. For some groups/settings, there will be a fixed duration (church service, sports game, etc.). For others (malls, parking lots, etc.), you will have to make a determination of what would be feasible and useful. Some observations may last only a few minutes, and others over an hour.
SOC121 Writing Assignment 1 Instructions 2
How to behave in the field: If you need permission, make sure you obtain it from the appropriate person (director of the organization, head of the group) before you start your observation. Be upfront about the goal of your project: you are conducting an observation for a college class, and you will use your findings in a class paper. You are guaranteeing everybody anonymity.
When you start your observation, it is possible that people will react to your presence. Be as inconspicuous as possible. Think about how you dress: you should blend in. Be casual and discreet. Do not stare. Be respectful. People may indicate that they want privacy, even in a public setting. Give them that privacy. If they indicate that you make them uncomfortable, leave them alone.
If you talk to people, do not impose your views, do not take a stand. Let people talk rather than try to give your opinion. Remember that you are in the field to learn about them. Be as neutral as possible in your statements, but remain open and friendly to encourage them to speak.
Strive to become invisible. Match your mood to that of the group or setting so your reactions are read as appropriate.
Adopt a neutral position to what you observe: appreciate situations rather than try to correct it. Do not judge.
Should you feel threatened in any way by a person or situation, leave the setting. Should a conflict occur, do not get involved. Should anybody be in need of immediate assistance, step out of your research role, and respond to the situation as best you can.
How to record your observations: Good notes are key to an observation project because they are the basis upon which you are going to build your findings.
Note-taking takes place in two stages:
1) In the field: take cryptic notes. Jot down brief accounts of what is going on so that you do not forget it. Write a few key words or phrases, not complete sentences. Be a sponge: write down what you see, hear, smell, without trying to analyze it.
2) At home: transcribe your notes. Type them up in a word processor, elaborating on your cryptic notes to include everything you remember. The notes should be very descriptive. Reserve any judgment for a separate section of comments of your own, where you relate your reaction to the events, and start analyzing what you have observed using what you are learning in class. Also write down any questions that come to mind about things you did not understand and want to probe into in your next observation.
Reminder: You have to guarantee people anonymity, so you cannot write down any names, in your notes or paper. Use pseudonyms or codes. Think about what you are going to take your notes on. You have to be discreet in most settings, so think about something that fits well in your purse or pocket. Bring several pens!
In most groups or settings, you will be too conspicuous if you take notes in the open. So if you conduct a lengthy observation, plan to take a break to go to a private place (your car, a bathroom, etc.) where you can write down some notes.
Take in the physical setting; draw a map of the location, including how the main participants are positioned. You may do this only once during your first observation, or every time, if the participants or the organization of the setting change.
Write down bits of conversations between participants, verbatim as much as possible. Eavesdropping is against our social norms, but it is essential to good observation, so do not be bashful. Just be discreet. Note the sequence of events. This is easily forgotten.
SOC121 Writing Assignment 1 Instructions 3
Write about the relationships between participants (how they are connected to each other). Are there prominent individuals? Leaders? Popular people?
If you cannot write your cryptic notes as you observe, or find a quiet place to go and write them at regular intervals, limit your observation time to about 20 minutes.
Transcribe your notes as soon as possible after you have completed your observation session, and in all cases, within 72 hours.
If you concentrate on remembering, aided by your cryptic notes, you will see that you will remember a lot. Write down everything you remember. Your transcribed notes have to be as detailed as possible.
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