How to do a field study– “But I’m not studying a field!”

Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 6.18.07 AMNo, there are no fields in the city. That’s true. There are sidewalks, potholes, and tons of stuff that doesn’t remind me of cow tipping (Disclaimer–cows should be standing upright at all times. Disclaimer 2–I never tipped a cow. It is a mean rural stereotype. Don’t try this at home).

The objective of a field study is to use your five senses, combined with research, to make conclusions about a certain area. Ours–your first simple field study in social science–is in progress.  These projects are shaping up nicely. Let’s take a minute to analyze what you’ve done so far:

1. You’ve chosen a neighborhood of interest, yours or another, and you’ve really taken a look. You might pass Stanley’s or gone in to eat a burger every day, but have you studied the pulse of Central Falls? Pawtucket? Providence?

2. We’ve discussed data and what it’s useful for–we decided it can often lead us to false conclusions. We calculated the math. In the case study of Pawtucket, where 1:2 whites own houses, 1:4 African Americans and 1:4 Hispanics own houses, you first thought that indicated a wealth pattern. Then we analyzed that further and you said that it depended on who owned which houses.

Our conclusion: More information is necessary. That’s where your field-based research comes in. Numbers can be used to tell any story. The same numbers can be interpreted in different ways. Your job is to tell that story.

3. We decided that classifications are a tricky thing. Looking at the census, we examined ethnic classifications. “Black or African American” and “Hispanic or Latino” boxes on the census can be tricky–how do people identify themselves? And what is “white” or “other” anyway?  Again, this isn’t just about how people identify themselves, it’s becomes about numbers, populations, and the story of the area. You are telling this story–you will have to sort this out.

4. Interviews: You were given the task of safely interviewing some people with guided questions. A good interview gets the story out. It never forces the questions. We talked about good interviews and bad interviews–some of you have noticed “nobody in this area wants to talk to me,” or “They won’t answer my question.”  This is part of the game–the best interview is one where the story comes out and it seems like a conversation. Get people to let down their guard–they’ll tell you anything. I used to do this in investigations–it works. You have to establish rapport-a relationship.  It’s one of those “money skills” you’ll use in life.

Keep going–tell the story of your neighborhood. Is it improving? Declining? How do people use the government, community groups, and citizen action to get the job done? That’s civics. That’s all there is to it!

Your resources:  Please add more to the comments. You have been finding a ton.


Google Doc with the assignment and rubric


2 thoughts on “How to do a field study– “But I’m not studying a field!”

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