Self-ethnography

Do you know why we humans are called “creatures of habit”? Time and time again, we eat at our favourite restaurants and hang out at the same coffee place. Some of us even travel to the same place for our vacations every year.

We are not always rational when we make decisions. Our emotions play a huge role.

To learn more about the “truth” behind the deisions we make, check out this highly-readable article by Nichola Kent-Lemon: Researching implicit memory: Get to the truth

One interesting thing the author also talked about was self-ethnography, a research solution that seems to be gaining traction, especially in the world of consumer research. Here is an extract:

The explosion of mobile technology and social media has meant that accessing realtime behaviour and emotion is becoming an increasing possibility, and harnessing these new technologies to reveal the truth behind consumer motivations is well within reach.

Traditionally, ethnography involves the detailed study of the lives and behaviours of a limited number of carefully selected participants. This allows researchers to gain an in-depth understanding of the context of their research subject, and provides a window into the real-life emotions and practical issues that can change the course of the behaviour and decisions they are researching.

However, despite its obvious suitability to researching the context and emotions involved in decision-making, traditional ethnography has some drawbacks. Studies are limited to the amount of time a researcher has to spend with participants, and are often pared down to a single visit to a participants’ home, to hear a verbal account of daily life with reference to home surroundings.

Full-scale observations of life as it happens are rare. Self-ethnography offers a practical alternative to overcome this problem. While traditionally, participants in research studies are seen as naïve test subjects, self-ethnography suggests that it is possible to educate participants to observe and report their own behaviour and emotions with as little bias as possible.

With the use of mobile technology, participants can report their observations in real time so they do not become distorted by inaccuracies of memory or post-rationalisation. Dedicated online platforms or social media accounts can be used to aggregate uploads from participants, in the form of written observations, photographs or films, and automated surveys can be programmed to pop up on mobile devices at certain intervals to measure real time emotion and behaviour.

The potential for data collection in this way is huge, and with no need for research venues to be hired or even for researchers themselves to be present, associated costs can also be minimised, making self-ethnography a practical as well as an innovative solution.

Reproduced from Admap with permission. © Copyright Warc. www.warc.com/admap

This leaves us with some food for thought:

  • Do we still adopt the view that research participants these days are “naïve test subjects”?
  • Can a mobile app help a researcher, or even a journalist collect data?

About Law Loo Shien

I am with the Resources, Discovery and Access team at NTU Library. There was once I scored a D for an undergraduate module on Political Philosophy, but it was the best course I'd ever taken. It planted the seeds of intellectual growth, and gave me a framework to understand human nature.
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