Strengths and Weaknesses of Field Research
Participant observation research. case studies pornography. and unstructured interviews provide opportunities for researchers to view £1 )IT inside what may not be obvious to an outside observer. They are useful when attitudes and behaviors can be understood best within their natural setting or when the researcher wants to study social processes and change over a period of time. They provide a wealth of information about the reactions of people and give us an opportunity to generate theories from the data collected (Whyte. 1989). For example. through unstructured interviews. researchers gain access to "peoples ideas. thoughts. and memories in their own words rather than in the words of the researcher- (Reinharz. 1992: 19). Research of this type is important for the study of race. ethnicity. and gender because it often includes those who have been previously excluded from studies and provides information about them.
Social scientists who believe that quantitative research methods (such as survey research) provide the most scientific and accurate means of measuring attitudes. beliefs, and behavior arc often critical of data obtained through field research. They argue that what is learned from a specific group or community cannot be generalized to a larger population. They also suggest that the data collected in natural settings are descriptive and do not lend themselves to precise measurement. Researchers who want to determine cause and effect or to t~st a theory emphasize that It is impossible to demonstrate such relationships from participant observation studies. For these reasons and others. some qualitative researchers (particularly ethnographers) use computer-assisted qualitative data analysis (CAQDA) programs. Such programs make it easier for researchers to enter. organize. annotate. code. retrieve. count, and analyze data (Dohan and Sanchez- Jankowski. 1998). However. other ethnographers and field researchers do not use CAQDA programs in their research (see Charmaz and Olesen. 1997; Horowitz, 1997; and Morrill and Fine. 1997).