DOING FIELDWORK IN A PANDEMIC
(Crowdsourced document initiated and edited by Deborah Lupton in 2020; revised by Deborah Lupton 5 July 2021)
Isolation measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 means that social researchers who are used to doing fieldwork have had to consider ways for avoiding in-person interactions by using mediated forms (digital or non-digital) that will achieve similar ends. This crowdsourced document, initiated and edited by Deborah Lupton (who contributed the first tranche of content), has been put together by researchers who have added a range of diverse ideas for doing fieldwork in a pandemic.
Social research has been conducted online for many years, of course. There are many examples of using online survey tools or doing content analyses or ethnographies using existing online interactions as research materials. Interviews have been conducted by phone or Skype for a long time. This document was initially directed at ways for how to turn fieldwork that was initially planned as using face-to-face methods into a more ‘hands-off’ mode. However, people have added useful material about ‘born digital’ research (content already generated on the internet by online interactions), which provides an alternative source of social research materials if researchers decide to go down that path.
Please note that several methods outlined in this document can be carried out using approaches that are not online and therefore can be particularly useful in contexts where participants or researchers do not have reliable digital access or skills. See the list of recommended books on innovative methods on p. 35 for some further suggestions.
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Lupton, D. (editor) (2021) Doing fieldwork in a pandemic (crowd-sourced document), revised version. Available at: DOING FIELDWORK IN A PANDEMIC
Innovative Methods Webinar Series
Deborah Lupton has started a new YouTube webinar series, ‘Breaking Methods’, with short-form introductions to innovative methods. Link to the series is here.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Doing Online Interviews (added by Alexia Maddox)
Using Wearable Cameras (and other first-person perspective tech)
Epistolary (Asynchronous) Interviews
Online Discussion Platforms
Online, Synchronous, Video-Based Focus Group Interviews (added by Nathan Browning)
The Story Completion Method
Using Facebook Groups
Using Google/Microsoft Forms for Data Collection
The Ethics of Moving from Face-to-Face Fieldwork
Autoethnography (added by F. Güzin Agca-Varoglu)
Duoethnography (added by Vibeke Oestergaard Steenfeldt)
Autobiographical Design and Research-Through-Design (added by Cayla Key)
Netnography/Virtual Methods (added by Gabriella Wulff)
Digital Methods and Quali-Quant analysis (added by Anders Kristian Munk)
Using YouTube (and Online Video) for (Teaching) Observational Studies (added by Robin Smith)
Using Podcasts to Study Culture
Big Brother Style Observations
Experimenting with Online Live Action Role Play (O-LARPs) (added by Alex Taylor)
LSE Digital Ethnography Collective Reading List
Arts-based Project Combined with Skype Interviews (added by Nicole Brown)
Creating Social Media Platforms/ Groups for Research and Researching Social Media Platforms
Online Surveys, Virtual Interviews and Social Media Screenshots (Added by Jessica Ringrose and Kaitlynn Mendes)
Digital Mapping and Geospatial Technologies
Tracking/mapping how people use online systems and platforms to track movement or migration patterns, or to explore a particular phenomena
Live Streaming Apps
Photojournalism and Documentary Photography
Using Internet Video Calling and Desktop Sharing as a Discrete Research Method
Recommended Books on Innovative and Creative Methods
Studying Europe online
A method that involves asking research participants to use a camera or voice recording app (often on their smartphone) to take photos or make videos or voice memos about their everyday practices and interactions that they can then share with the researchers. Researchers can provide them with questions or prompts to direct their recordings and documentations.
Ahlin, Tanja, and Fangfang Li (2019). From Field Sites to Field Events: Creating the field with information and communication technologies (ICTs). Medicine, Anthropology and Theory 6(2): 1-24.From field sites to field events | Medicine Anthropology Theory
Harper, D. (2002) ‘Talking about pictures: a case for photo-elicitation’, Visual Studies, 17(1): 13–26.
Bates, E. A., McCann, J. J., Kaye, L. K., & Taylor, J. C. (2017). “Beyond words”: a researcher’s guide to using photo-elicitation in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 14(4), 459-481.
Copes, H., Tchoula, W., Brookman, F., & Ragland, J. (2018). Photo-elicitation interviews with vulnerable populations: practical and ethical considerations. Deviant Behavior, 39(4), 475-494.
Steenfeldt, V.O., Therkildsen, M. & Lind, J. (2019). Nursing students’ experiences of a challenging course: A photo-elicitation study. Nurse Education Today 76:31-37.
These methods can also be combined with asking participants to complete diaries or journals using pen and paper, voice memos or online platforms or apps. Diaries can also be combined with interviews and other methods, where sometimes the diary can act as a prompt for further discussion. Diaries can be structured (like questionnaire) and aiming for quantitative analysis, or semi- or unstructured - asking for more free-flowing reflection. Keeping in touch with participants is very important, especially for longer-term studies, as this maintains participation (attrition can be an issue). Also receiving some entries early on in the process and giving feedback may help as sometimes relevance can be an issue too. Diaries can be used over months or hours, depending on the focus of the study. They can use interval-based sampling (i.e. record something every hour or every day) or event-based (i.e. record something when it occurs, which may be more irregular). Diaries can take many different forms including visual, collage, photo-based as well as written or spoken - it is important to consider the participants and what they would find easy to use (ask them - piloting is essential) and also what you will be able to analyse within the analytical approach you have chosen.
On using “Digital diary”:
Ahlin, Tanja, and Fangfang Li (2019). From Field Sites to Field Events: Creating the field with information and communication technologies (ICTs). Medicine, Anthropology and Theory 6(2): 1-24.doi.org/10.17157/mat.6.2.6n55
Crozier, S. E., & Cassell, C. M. (2016). Methodological considerations in the use of audio diaries in work psychology: Adding to the qualitative toolkit. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 89(2), 396-419.
Kaur, H., Saukko, P., & Lumsden, K. (2018). Rhythms of moving in and between digital media: a study on video diaries of young people with physical disabilities. Mobilities
, 13(3), 397-410.
[If it’s ok to add some things to this - here’s some more diary research suggestions - suggestions/annotations by Emily Henderson @EmilyFrascatore - feel free to contact me about diary research!]:
3 great guide books on this type of research:
* Alaszewski, A. (2006). Using diaries for social research. London: Sage.
* Bartlett, R., & Milligan, C. (2015). What is diary method? London: Bloomsbury.
* Hyers, L. L. (2018). Diary methods. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Day, M., & Thatcher, J. (2009). “I'm Really Embarrassed That You're Going to Read This …”: Reflections on Using Diaries in Qualitative Research. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 6(4), 249-259. doi:10.1080/14780880802070583 [A useful paper on how diaries can be used - advantages as well as challenges]
Eidse, N., & Turner, S. (2014). Doing resistance their own way: counter-narratives of street vending in Hanoi, Vietnam through solicited journaling. Area, 46(3), 242-248. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/24029993 [This one picks up the complexities of both living and recording lives, particularly when on the move/living precariously]
Harvey, L. (2011). Intimate reflections: private diaries in qualitative research. Qualitative Research, 11(6), 664-682. doi:10.1177/1468794111415959 [A fascinating method where participants keep diaries but don’t show them to the researcher - the diaries act as prompts]
Along these same lines, Markham has done ethnographic study of youth who use a variety of tools, including diaries, that they don’t show to the researcher, but use as prompts. Written up here: Markham, A. N. (2018). Critical pedagogy as a response to datafication. Qualitative Inquiry, Online First edition at https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800418809470 (personal copy shared here)
Waddington, K. (2005). Using diaries to explore the characteristics of work-related gossip: Methodological considerations from exploratory multimethod research. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 78(2), 221-236. doi:10.1348/096317905X40817 [This one really picks up how diaries can help to record data from scenarios that would not be easily researched using e.g. observation]
Williamson, I., Leeming, D., Lyttle, S., & Johnson, S. (2012). ‘It should be the most natural thing in the world’: exploring first-time mothers' breastfeeding difficulties in the UK using audio-diaries and interviews. Maternal & Child Nutrition, 8(4), 434-447. doi:10.1111/j.1740-8709.2011.00328.x [This one is interesting as it