Ethnography of Space and Place Research Practicum IRB

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  • Setha Low Ethnography of Space and Place Research Practicum 1. Duration of the project: 6 weeks (March 26-May 7) 2. Brief summary: This course sketches some of the methodological implications of the ethnographic study of the contemporary city using anthropological tools of participant observation, interviewing, behavioral mapping, and theories of space and place to illuminate spaces in modern/post-modern cities and their transformations. It begins with a discussion of spatializing culture, that is the way that culture is produced and expressed spatially, and the way that space reflects and changes culture. The subsequent weeks explore different theoretical dimensions, embodied space, the social construction of space, the social production of space, language and discursive space, and translocal and transnational space. The course also explores a number of special topics including how urban fear is transforming the built environment and the nature of public space both in the ways that we are conceiving the re/building our cities, and in the ways that residential suburbs are being transformed into gated and walled enclaves of private privilege and public exclusion. The major requirement for this seminar is a fieldwork project structured around four weeks of data collection and two weeks of data analysis. The majority of sites are public spaces that are open and do not require special permission for entrance. Students will participate in one of four fieldwork projects selected by the class and then use the data collected and analyzed as part of the class discussion. The analysis will be presented at the conclusion as part of the final requirement to write a paper. Students will be asked to use theoretical materials from the course to recast or rethink their research projects for their final papers. Four public space sites have been selected: 1) Gateway Plaza in the Bronx; 2) the Saturday Farmers Market in Park Slope; 3) the new pedestrian public space along Broadway; and 4) Topkins Square. Four to six students will work on each site, with some students have architectural or urban design backgrounds and others social science expertise. Students will practice all methods, but also work as a group to collect the archival and mapping data. 3. Description of how the data will be collected. Each week we will discuss a method in class and then students will be asked to complete a brief sample of the method at their field site. March 26. Unobtrusive Methods--Participant Observation and Field notes, Physical

  • Traces Mapping, Behavioral Mapping, Movement Mapping, Photography and Population Counts Readings: On the Plaza, Chapters 1, 2 and 7

    Chose one of the following texts from the library if you are unfamiliar with these methods that are on reserve in the library:

    Fetterman, D. M. (1989) Ethnography Step by Step. Newbury Park: Sage. Jorgensen, D. L. (1989) Participant Observaton. Newbury Park: Sage. Agar, Michael (1980) The Professional Stranger. New York: Academic Press. Assignment: Try out some of the unobtrusive methods such as behavioral mapping, populations counts, and physical traces mapping over the spring break. Act like a participant observer and keep field notes. Bring observations and field notes to class after the break for general discussion. 4/9 Ethnohistorical and Archival Methods for the Study of Urban Space Personal Documents, Diaries, Autobiographies, Photographs, Census Materials, Newspaper and Magazine Articles, Library Searches of Archival Materials, Rare Book Libraries, On Line Resources, Historical Maps and Plans, Zoning Laws and Ordinances Readings: On the Plaza, Chapters 3, 4, and 5. Assignment: Select one documentary method (newspaper article, historical document, map, zoning ordinances, etc.) to pursue and bring materials to discuss in the next class. 4/23 Interview Methods for the Study of Urban Space InterviewingStructured and Unstructured, Key Informant Interviews, Group Interviews, Focus Groups, Transect Walks, Guided Tours Readings: On the Plaza, Chapters 6, 10 and 8.

    Assignment: Develop a preliminary set of questions based on a research question drawn from one of the theoretical approaches of the course. If possible, test out your set of questions with a friend or someone from the course. If the questions seem to work, then try out on your site.

    4. Description of how data will be analyzed. Analysis of the data is not the focus of this practicum which is designed mostly to get students into the field to complement their reading and writing about public space. However, students are asked to content analyze their documents and present their preliminary observations in a final presentation in class. In their individual paper they

  • will focus on the theoretical material presented in class and use their preliminary findings to illustrate some of these theoretical points. I teach a separate methods module on analysis that most students take at a later time. 5. Description of Potential Human Subjects: Most of the data collected will be archival or observational, that is either collected through the internet or the New York City Planning Department or through direct observation of people using public spaces. Field notes will be kept by students and presented in class. Names of individuals or identifying characteristics will be kept to a minimum. Again, the emphasis of this experience is to go the field to see what possibilities there are to observe and map people in space. Students will have had a lecture by me about ethical issues and confidentiality as they begin their fieldwork. The archival research and observation has almost no impact although sometimes illegal activities are observed in Topkins Square. When this occurs, students are instructed not to become involved and to remove themselves as this is practice research. I debrief students about what has occurred in the field each week. On the final week, however, some students want and are ready to ask questions, especially if it is a small setting where they have become known by their presence. Students begin by explaining that they are students at the GC and that they would like to ask about the persons experience of the public space as part of their class assignment. They will explain that if the person wants to stop at any moment or feels uncomfortable that they should say so at any time. Students will have a letter from me explaining the practicum and giving them my telephone number and information if they have any questions. Although a formal signature of each person is not collected the letter will be given to each participant to be sure that they understand that this is a class assignment and will not be published or used in the future. Students often ask if they can take pictures of the space, and if people are in their view, whether it is appropriate to take a picture. For those who want to ask questions, a few very simple questions are used including asking about the interviewees activity in the public space that day, whether they come frequently to use the space, what they like about the space, and what problems they have observed. These simple questions are usually adequate for our goal of understanding the public space as a social setting. These questions are also usually seen as non threatening and in my experience do not pose a potential threat to interviewees. Students are instructed NOT to interview student or people who do not have the capacity to give permission for an interview. 6. Recruitment plan: In public space it is difficult to have a formal recruitment plan. Since this is practice research I suggest that the students start with someone that they will feel comfortable with. If it is a more advanced student, then sampling might consist of attempting to interview in the various sub-spaces and areas of the field site.

  • 7. How will permission be obtained. Please see answer given above.


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