Chapter

Knowledge from the Field

Marjorie L. DeVault

in Sociology in America

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2007 | ISBN: 9780226090948
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226090962 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226090962.003.0005
Knowledge from the Field

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This chapter provides a story about fieldwork traditions in sociology and the growth of qualitative methods and methodology in the second half of the twentieth century. It weaves its narrative around three methodological essays from the second half of the century: Howard Becker's discussion of inference and proof in participant observation; Jack Katz's essay on a social system of analytic fieldwork, based on a study that included both participant observation and “loosely structured interviews”; and Ruth Behar's commentary on methods in a life history study. It brings forward three ideas. (1) Labels, languages, and emphases may have changed over the course of the century, but one can find a sturdy tradition whose shared strategies and commitments have been passed along, explicitly and implicitly, through generations of practitioners. (2) From its early days in social reform activities, the fieldwork tradition of “close-up” investigation has provided openings for “voices from outside”; yet in every period, researchers have struggled over the relation between science and social action, and the topics and consequences of field studies have been shaped by their social and institutional contexts. (3) Women as well as men have contributed to this tradition, but women have too often been “edged out” of the discipline or simply overlooked.

Keywords: fieldwork traditions; sociology; qualitative methods; Howard Becker; Jack Katz; Ruth Behar; participant observation; life history study

Chapter.  12258 words. 

Subjects: Comparative and Historical Sociology

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