How the iPhone Changed the Way We Do Ethnography
November 12th, 2012 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.


Ethnography (from Greek ἔθνος ethnos = folk/people and γράφω grapho = to write) is a qualitative research design aimed at exploring cultural phenomena. The resulting field study or a case report reflects the knowledge and the system of meanings in the lives of a cultural group.[1][2][3]An ethnography is a means to represent graphically and in writing, the culture of a people.

is an approach often used in qualitative research.  Recently on the “Cop in the Hood” blog, the use of the iPhone was discussed as a tool for data collection.  See the post HERE.

Here’s what caught my attention:

In an attempt to stay true to my ethnographic forefathers, I had been jotting down notes in shorthand. Deep in the recesses of countless seminal ethnographies, one can usually find a footnote or appendix detailing the experiences one has collecting data. Everyone from Whyte to Venkatesh [ed note: and Moskos], it seems, has shared personal anecdotes on finding odd moments to jot down notes of what they observed, heard and felt. What these texts seemed to gloss over, however, is just how conspicuous one can look with a pen and pad in 2012.
Not wanting to make the situation any more uncomfortable than it was already becoming, I fumbled around in my pocket and pulled out my iPhone, opened the “notes” section and began typing. In an age when most teens and 20-somethings remain glued to their i-devices, checking mail, or texting, I found that my fiddling with a phone while talking to Chaz was no longer “curious” behavior. In fact, it was seen as quite normal.
Ironically, I’ve been contemplating a reflective study with teachers using iPod Touch and the Voice Memos App.  Questions are provided and the participants can record their personal narratives.  But then the follow up becomes easy.
  • Participant records answers on the iPod Touch (or just as easily with an iPhone)
  • Participant clicks the share button
  • Participant emails or texts the file to the research team
  • Research team sends the mp3 file to service provider for transcription
  • Analysis commences

The power of technology can help connect subjects to researchers in a seamless way.

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