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Archive for October, 2009

… So we’re now what ethnographers call ‘firmly in the field’. That’s the Lancaster field, which isn’t a field at all, although the part of the city in which we’re working most intensively includes Fairfield, which at least sounds like it should be a field, even if it isn’t …. Oh dear, my first post wasn’t meant to start like this!

Following some pilot work earlier this year, the qualitative phase of our three year project is now underway in earnest. By ‘qualitative’ I mean the methods we’re using which give us stories, rather than statistics. So what social scientists call ‘an interview’, which is really a chat designed to produce a detailed, nuanced understanding of particular issues from a person’s perspective, is one qualitative method. Whereas a questionnaire survey, and 15,000 of those have recently gone out across our four research sites (that’s the cities of Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester and Worcester), is a quantitative method … Here endeth the (unintended, but that’ll teach me for using jargon!) lesson.

We are starting out on our home ground. Between now and Christmas we’ll be moving around the streets of Lancaster, and to some extent Morecambe, in search of data to throw light on some of our central research questions.

We’re working with 20 households from across the Lancaster and Morecambe district. With 10 of these households, we’ll be doing what we sometimes call ‘go-alongs’, sometimes ‘accompanied journeys’. (In the office, which Griet and I share with our project administrator Sheila Constantine, we’re currently undecided as which sounds better, and/or makes more sense – any opinions, please let us know!) Anyway, whatever you want to call it, this qualitative method is designed to provide us with lots of detail about how people actually move around, and how they experience their moving around. We’re aiming to accompany five people, or groups of people, as they move from one place to another by bike, and another five people, or groups of people, as they travel on foot. We’ve started recruiting willing (and thank you so much for being willing!) participants for these accompanied journeys, and will post more details (whilst of course respecting confidentiality) here as we go, along …

We’re also busy recruiting another 10 households for interviews. We plan to interview people from these households (how many people from each household participate is up to them, but from our perspective it’s ‘the more the merrier’) twice, once fairly soon, and then again as we get close to Christmas.

In addition to these two qualitative methods, we’re also working ethnographically with a number of families. This part of our research is more geographically focussed. We’ve selected part of west Lancaster, specifically Fairfield and Abraham Heights, for the household ethnographies.

In this part of the city, we’re busy trying to get a really deep and rich understanding of the neighbourhoods, and of how people – and specifically people from the participating households – move around. I probably have a head start over Griet here, as I live in the area, and have done for the last four years, pretty much since my son, Bobby, started school at Dallas Road (he’s now in year 4, whilst my daughter, Flo, is in year 2). That said, it’s also the case that sometimes ‘the outsider’ can see things more clearly. I possibly take a lot for granted, and have stopped (if indeed I ever started!) asking questions about why things are this way, rather than another way.

We’re very lucky, and appreciative, that a lot of people have expressed interest in our research, and a willingness to become involved with it. Thank you to all of you. We’ve also been mentioning our work to a lot of people with whom we’ve not yet got around to following up – so my apologies if you’re wondering what’s happening … I’ll try to get on the case!

For now, if you see me moseying (or should that be nosing?) around your neighbourhood, please don’t call the police! (Well, I suppose you could if you wanted – to the ethnographer everything’s pretty interesting, and it’d sure make a good story, and data!) Me, that strange fellow acting slightly suspiciously, is just your friendly (yes, really!) neighbourhood ethnographer, engaged in the odd business of understanding how we Lancastrians move ourselves around these days …

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