Oftentimes researchers are interesting in examining social phenomenon in its natural setting, for instance, observing interactions between police officers and civilians on the street, or between judges and defendants in court. In these situations surveys and experiments may be too synthetic and are likely to produce biased information. Instead, researchers will rely on a form of qualitative research known as Field Research. In this line of research, the researcher systematically observes some social setting, taking detailed notes either during or immediately after leaving the field. The researcher then observes his/her notes looking for key themes that emerge from the observations.
For this assignment you are expected to observe some criminal justice related phenomenon in the ‘real world.’ This may include ride-alongs with police officers, visiting court proceedings, attending demonstrations, and so on. Many of you have already approached me with ideas. If you need help coming up with a topic, let me know. For the actual assignment, you will need to make detailed notes on EVERYTHING you observe. We discussed the note-taking process in the lecture videos. You may use a tape recorder, take notes at the site, or observe everything and write it all down as soon as you get home. The method you use will depend completely on the situation. For instance, using a tape recorder is a bad idea on a ride-along. Once you have taken your notes, you will need to go back through and ‘code.’ In other words, you will pick out key themes, or patterns that you observed. For instance, maybe you notice gender differences in the types of offenses for which people appear in court. Once you have picked out your themes you will summarize the experience in a 5 page paper. In the paper you should
- Describe the setting you visited in as much detail as possible (time of day, location, number of people around, etc).
- Describe any emergent patterns you observed.
- Finally, try to make sense of the patterns. For instance, why do you think that women were more likely to appear in court for certain offenses?
You will submit both your paper and your field notes to receive full credit. The field notes are worth half of the grade, the summary paper is worth the other half. Your field notes should be detailed, but grammar/ spelling doesn’t matter. In regards to the paper – 85% of the grade will be based on content and your interpretation of the notes. The other 15% will be based on grammar / style. Remember, you should spend one hour taking notes for every hour you spend in the field. Rather than type up your notes, you are also welcome to scan and attach them to your assignment, or turn in a physical copy of your notes to me in person.