Union City New jersey
The goal of this assignment is to spend some time seeing how your topic of interest plays out on the ground, in a specific community, on a day to day basis. This is a chance for you to explore some aspect of the urban world that interests you, using theoretical and methodological knowledge youve gained from class.
What can you learn from observation, and hows this different from just looking at data on a neighborhood? Youre going to combine in-person qualitative observations with quantitative/administrative data (e.g., do your observations of boundaries match the Censuss formal boundaries?).
1. Your observational data will not allow you to make CAUSAL statements. (ex: residential segregation is caused by peoples choices.) Many of you want to answer causal questions good! But you cant do it with your observations. Observational data is DESCRIPTIVE: it can tell you what things LOOK like.
2. Will your field work match up perfectly with your question and your scholarly literature? NO. NO. No. So just acknowledge this, and in your paper discuss how what you saw isnt *exactly* the best test of what you wanted to learn, but here is why it is related.
3. How do you decide what/where to observe? Consider the following factors all are legitimate.
a. I dont expect you to to do things/go places that make you feel unsafe. (Uncomfortable? OK. Unsafe? No).
b. What kind of processes are you hoping to observe? Something about the buildings or streets or playgrounds? Then observe the built environment. Draw maps, count buildings, describe appearances. Is your question more directly about people? Then observe them. How many? Who are they? What are they doing? How do they interact?
c. If you need to observe people, consider what time of day you are able to go, and choose your location strategically. During the work day you will not find a lot of people to observe in residential areas. Afternoons/evenings/weekends you will fare better. If you are interested in families I strong encourage visiting parks. Depending on your topic, maybe a neighborhood store/shopping/area/Laundromat/etc might make a good spot.
d. Remember you have many options for observing the social conditions Im asking you to observe. For instance: we all have race. Right? So you can observe residential segregation in white neighborhoods, non-white neighborhoods, mixed neighborhoods; and neighborhoods of color may be Black, or Latino or Asian (not here), or mixes. Think about which settings most interest YOU.
4. How should you record what you observe? There are many possible ways to do this you will develop the style that makes best sense TO YOU. But, as always, some ideas:
a. Consider drawing a map. It helps you get an idea of the area you are observing, and can point out patterns and other interesting findings - things you might not notice if you didnt take the time to map them.
b. Make categories of things you want to observe. It may take a while for you to know EXACTLY what these will be. But if you want to know what race(s) of people use a particular space, youll want to keep count, by race, of the people you see. (Yes, your idea of what race people are.)
c. Be clear on how you will identify categories of phenomena. For example, if you want to see how run down housing is in low-income areas: how will you know if they are run down? You may not have any idea until you get there and start looking. And then maybe youll want to mark down how many housing units have broken windows, or peeling paint, or etc. You will use these specifics build the term run-down for your research.
d. Write down EVERYTHING. Either while you are doing your field work (best) or when you are done write all you can think of about what you saw/heard/smelt/etc. These are your field notes and they are a rich source of data!! You will probably do your field work in several chunks (an hour here, an hour there) use your field notes to help you refine what you look for/at next time you go out.
5. What if you want to have a conversation with someone?
a. Talk to at least four people (each) in the area that you are observing.
b. Be upfront and tell them you are writing up a paper on this for college class and was hoping for their input.
c. Ask about themes that interest you and/or we have studied
i. Neighborhood boundaries
ii. Length of time in neighborhood
iii. Changes in the neighborhood (kind of people that live there, the kind of businesses around, the kind of religious or other organizations, politics, schools)
iv. What resources are there for kids and teenagers?
v. What kind of resources are there for people with low incomes?
6. Ethical concerns: Since you will be observing people and spaces, but especially people, you need to make sure that your observations do no harm. There are too many examples of research in which the subjects have been hurt although it is VERY unlikely you would be in the position to cause someone harm think about this beforehand. What does this mean in practical terms?
a. Anonymity: No one should be directly identifiable by your notes. Dont include peoples names, or even descriptions which are so exact that someone reading them would be able to tell who youre talking about.
b. Privacy: Although you are studying public places, we all know that sometimes private moments happen in public. Respect that. If someone is having a clearly private moment, consider leaving that exact area for a few minutes, or at the very least, stop taking notes for a few minutes. Although we often learn a lot from observational studies, our studies are never as important as others lives/well-being.
c. Safety: This isnt really an ethical issue, but fits with the others. Take care of yourself as well. Some people dont want to be observed respect that, too. You dont want to be harassed by anyone, and theres no need to be. Further, if you find yourself observing someone doing something illegal (other than jay-walking), do not take notes in front of them. You can write up any relevant observations after youre out of the area.
d. Honesty: Someone may ask what youre doing. You can say whatever you choose, but often the answer class project will suffice. If someone presses you (not so likely) tell them as much or as little as you wish.
7. Practical matters: choosing a spot, deciding what to write down:
a. Choosing a spot to observe from within your site: Those of you observing in open public spaces have an easier time of it. Pick some place a bit out of the way. The best situation is if you can write notes while you are observing, so some place where you can take notes and not be thought strange/not be noticed is good. Pick a spot and stay there for a good chunk of time (30 minutes to an hour is ideal), so you can really get a feel for that small slice of the area. Then pick another spot, and stay there for a while. You may not closely observe the whole of the area in one trip, thats ok youll get a lot of detail on the parts you do observe. For those of you who must keep moving, take breaks to take notes periodically, and realize it may take you more trips to the site to complete your observations.
b. Taking Notes: Important to note the time that you start, and note the time periodically during your observations it will help jog your memory when you look back over your notes. Develop any kind of short-hand you need to help you keep track of what youre seeing. Just make sure youll be able to read it later.
c. What to look for/take note of: There will be more happening in your sites than you can possibly take note of at one time. You may be especially interested in one type of activity, and focus on those things when taking notes, but here are some basic things you need to take note of, and tell me about in your paper:
i. What is the physical environment like? Are there buildings? Trees? Benches? Jogging paths? Sidewalks? You may want to think about sketching a map as you sit there. You can then place people on the map.
ii. Who is in the area? Keep an eye for demographics (what types of people age, sex, race, any other pointers)
iii. What are they doing in the space? What activities are people engaging in? How are they doing these things in a hurry? Are they relaxed? Angry?
iv. How are people interacting with the environment around them? Maybe a particular bench serves as a hanging out area, maybe some people walk close to the walls of buildings. How are they using the space you are observing?
v. How are people interacting with each other in the area?
d. Look for PATTERNS in all of this, thats what makes it interesting when we see not just a variety of individuals, but that young people use the space primarily in this way, older people in another way.
8. Focusing your observations/write-up: You will have already created a research question to explore for this project. However, keep your mind and eyes open to seeing what you dont expect when you get into the field in your role as researcher. After you have done a couple of hours of observation, you may find that one type of activity, or one physical landmark (mural, building, etc.) or one group of people particularly interest you. Then focus your observations on that specific entity that will give you a hook for the rest of your observations, for your newspaper searches, and may help you figure out what you want to use theories to try and explain in the paper.