The distinctive aspect of research in anthropology is the exploration of the complexity and nuances of human interactivity, as well as its culture. As a research discipline, anthropology combines humanistic and social science strategies. During their research, anthropologists make observations and pursue perspectives from various angles and in various ways. They observe and speak with people from different social categories. They have different relationships with the phenomena under study and conceptualize and respond to those phenomena.
The Ethnographic Method in Research in Anthropology
In this regard, the method that differentiates anthropology from other disciplines is ethnography, defined as the qualitative process of exploring in depth the why and how of culture, behavior and human expression. Using the ethnographic method, anthropologists can discover unexpected ideas that are best obtained by studying the subject over time and from various perspectives. In this way, the ethnographic method uses multiple data collection techniques.
These include participant observation, interviews, focus groups and textual analysis to build a holistic and contextual vision of the phenomena under study. Anthropologists immerse themselves in the rich largely qualitative dataset that results from their research and iterative analysis to identify emerging issues and gain insight into the meaning of the data. The goal of the anthropological approach is the credible interpretation of the data, to provide valuable and replicable information.
Data Collection Methods in Anthropology
Generally, an anthropological approach uses multiple qualitative methods as well as complementary quantitative data in a mixed methods study. The qualitative anthropological data collection methods are: participant observation, in-depth observation, interviews, focus groups and textual analysis.
Participant observation is the method of fieldwork par excellence in anthropology. Anthropologists use various degrees of participant observation, from full participation in ongoing activities to passive observation in places of interest. Participant observation is useful in multiple stages of an evaluation:
- Initially, to identify problems that need to be explored with other data collection methods;
- In the course of evaluating the process
- To follow other types of data, to triangulate previous findings and directly observe specific phenomena.
Participant observation allows the researcher to assess real behavior in real time. Information collected in this way can strengthen the interpretation of information collected through interviews. Large projects that employ multiple observers can use an observation template. This allows observers to be guided in taking notes on central phenomena and allowing them to add notes on other phenomena. It is important to ensure that observations from any location are made at different times of the day and week to identify patterns and differences.
In-depth individual interviews
In-depth interviews using open-ended questions aim to capture the informant’s mental and experiential world. Individual interviews allow participants to tell their stories in a detailed and consistent way. Also, without worrying about what their classmates may think. A semi-structured interview uses an interview guide with a central list of open-ended questions as well as advance follow-up questions. This allows researchers to ensure that all participants are asked a minimum set of identical questions.
In this way, they can collect reliable and comparable qualitative data. Additionally, this interview technique allows researchers to ask spontaneous questions to investigate clarification of participant responses. Therefore, they can follow new and relevant topics raised by the participants. Semi-structured interviews should be conducted by someone trained in qualitative interviews and who is comfortable using open-ended questions. In this way they can encourage participants to expose their thoughts. The duration of the interviews can vary and the evaluators can record audio and transcribe them.
Focus group is a useful group interview method for obtaining information on relatively new topics. Researchers choose focus groups rather than one-on-one interviews when data acquisition will benefit from the dynamics that are created through the discussion group. The discussion often generates information and ideas that might not come from an individual interview, including the colloquial ways in which participants speak. The following factors are critical to the success of the focus groups:
- Thoughtful creation of a list of open-ended questions designed to attract participants to discussion on desired topics.
- Careful attention to recruiting participants who have the desired characteristics and experiences. Also taking into account that they are comfortable with non-hierarchical group discussion.
- The presence of an observer who keeps notes on the process, operates the recording equipment and assists the moderator as needed.
Focus groups generally include 6 to 12 participants and last 1 to 2 hours. Moderators should strive to facilitate openness and dynamic dialogue between participants to allow opportunities for creative idea generation.
The practices produce a wide range of documents that provide valuable windows to their operations, values and mechanisms. Anthropological methods can be used to examine underlying themes and patterns in documents. These may be mission statements, information brochures, and procedure manuals. Thus, to understand the context, researchers can carry out a systematic review of the textual materials produced by practice. In this way, evaluators can obtain valuable information about beliefs, motivations and beliefs not articulated. If individuals and groups build their own narrative practice, record their practice stories, as part of the transformation process, this technique can be really helpful.
Digital anthropology is the anthropological study of the relationship between humans and technology in the digital age. The field is new and therefore has a variety of names with a variety of emphasis. These include Techno Anthropology, Digital Ethnography, Cyber Anthropology, Anthropology of Cyberspace, and Virtual Anthropology. Most anthropologists who use the phrase “digital anthropology” refer specifically to online technology and the Internet.
The study of the relationship of humans with a broader range of technology may fall into other subfields of anthropological study. An example of this is cyborg anthropology, a discipline that studies the interaction between humanity and technology, specifically Artificial Intelligence and Post-Humanism. One of the pioneering associations in this field is the Digital Anthropology Group (DANG) is an interest group inserted in the American Anthropological Association. DANG’s mission includes promoting the use of digital technology as an anthropological research tool. It also encourages anthropologists to share research using digital platforms and describe ways for anthropologists to study digital communities.
The Field of Digital Anthropology
Cyberspace itself can serve as a field research site for anthropologists. It allows the observation, analysis and interpretation of the sociocultural phenomena that arise and take place in any interactive space. National and transnational communities, enabled by digital technology, establish a set of social norms, practices, traditions, history and associated collective memory.
Likewise, they are related to periods of migration, internal and external conflicts and potentially subconscious language characteristics. In the same way, they work with memetic dialects comparable to those of traditional, geographically confined communities. This includes the various communities created around free and open source software. Likewise, it refers to online platforms like 4chan and Reddit and their respective subsites, and politically motivated groups like Anonymous, WikiLeaks or the Occupy movement.
Digital Anthropology and Virtual Environments
Various academic anthropologists have conducted traditional virtual world ethnographies, such as Bonnie Nardi’s World of Warcraft study or Tom Boellstorff’s Second Life study. Academician Gabriella Coleman has done ethnographic work in the Debian software community and on the anonymous hacktivist network. Many digital anthropologists who study online communities use traditional methods of anthropological research. They participate in these online communities to learn about their customs and worldviews. In the same way, they support their observations with private interviews, historical research, and quantitative data.
The method (and therefore the product) is ethnography, a qualitative description of your experience. In terms of method, there is disagreement on whether it is possible to conduct an investigation exclusively online or if the investigation will only be completed when the subjects are studied comprehensively, both online and offline. Tom Boellstorff, who conducted a three-year investigation as an avatar in the Second Life virtual world, defends the first approach, stating that it is not only possible, but necessary to engage with subjects “on their own terms.” Others, like Daniel Miller, have argued that ethnographic research should not exclude learning about the subject’s life off the Internet.
The inevitability of digital technology as an anthropology tool
Anthropological research can help designers adapt and improve technology. Australian anthropologist Genevieve Bell conducted extensive user experience research at Intel that informed the company’s approach to its technology, users, and market. The American Anthropological Association offers an online guide for students who use digital technology to store and share data. They can be loaded into digital databases to be stored, shared and interpreted. Numerical and text analysis software can help produce metadata, while a codebook helps organize the data. Other anthropologists and social scientists have done research that emphasizes data collected by websites and servers. However, academics often have trouble accessing user data on the same scale as social media corporations like Facebook and data mining companies like Acxiom (Today called Live Ramp).
Anthropology is known as a holistic science, incorporating knowledge and skills from fields as diverse as language arts, biology, chemistry, history, economics, visual and performing arts, statistics, psychology, epidemiology, and more. As the most scientific of the humanities and the most humanistic of the sciences, anthropology offers an eclectic box of qualitative and quantitative research method tools. Anthropologists are trained to combine insightful powers of observation, compelling forms of expression, and scientific verification of their theories to illuminate the complex relationships between culture and nature.
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