Environmental Discourse in Urban Settings: Progress and Challenges of doing Ethnographic Research
Our research into environmental discourse in urban settings has been making small yet significant progress. There was a slight delay to the beginning of the research because of technical, not ethical safety concerns of Pace’s Institutional Review Board. After some adjustments to the wording of our proposal it was cleared however, and the research officially began. Up until the IRB was approved, I was unable to do anything other than research and record contact information found on the internet for environmental sites of relevant interest. After the research was approved, I was able to get into the heart of the research, and start contacting people of various organizations about my project.
As of now, I have visited one site, contacted two others, and received a response from one. By visiting sites such as a greenmarket in the city and a community garden, we hope to be exposed to some of the diversity that distinguishes contemporary environmentalism. The head researcher and another student also participating in this project visited the greenmarket and took field notes, images, and recruited two people as participants who agreed to be recorded for an interview. I was unable to join them when they visited, so I went to the greenmarket myself on another day and took field notes. My field notes were very different from theirs, in that mine had a more clinical tone in listing the various types of produce that were being sold by diverse producers, the amount and types of people milling about, and how many people were there for environmental purposes. My co-researcher’s notes were more casual and varied in tone, mentioning how the heat might be affecting the amount of consumers and producers there and the history of the site. The field notes have been valuable in comparing what we’ve found based on our respective observations and interactions with people at the site, but due to the late start we had on reaching out to and visiting the sites much more data will still be collected, with interviews at the sites upcoming.
The ethnographic component of the research is successful, given that I was able to visit and interact with the greenmarket and have a visit to a food and electronic waste recycling center planned. The greenmarket already visited is the one I and other researchers took field notes for, and is involved in environmentalism in multiple ways, primarily through buying and selling produce but also in water saving activism and composting. I visited at lunchtime at the height of the day’s heat, but it was still very crowded with a diverse group of people, admittedly more walking through to get to some other destination than to interact with the site, but enough there for the site itself to constitute a crowd. Free samples of produce being sold were being given out by certain sellers, who attracted more prospective buyers than other stalls. Occasionally, people stopped by activist flyers and stalls to talk with the person in the booth, but a significantly larger amount of them were looking to buy produce. While my co-researchers found two participants from the site who agreed to interviews, I was less successful in that area. Those who I did mention the project to at the site were either unwilling or felt unqualified to be interviewed to discuss their ideas and practices involving environmentalism in depth. Thus, my participant involvement at the site concluded with data on the contents and activity of the place, but no individual ideas and opinions. The two interviews that were scheduled from other researcher’s visit to the site will be conducted later this week. Another interview and site visit with a participant from another organization was arranged for later in August, and I will be going to as a sole researcher and interviewer.
The main challenge I seem to be having with this project which keeps coming up is scheduling issues. It is difficult to find a time and date that all parties can agree on to meet up and collect data. I was unable to do ethnographic research and learn how to do said research in the greenmarket we would be in because of timing conflicts, so I made a separate trip to the site on another day. I was able to contact and arrange a meeting date with a participant from a waste recycling center, but it is later in the summer than I would like, since we had to find a time and date when we would both be in the New York area. I will be going alone to the site, because the professor and other students working on this project will be unavailable that day. Another challenge is my relative inexperience in research. I’ve done research papers and studies before, but they’ve been on a smaller scale than this current research project. While this project involves participant observation and one-on-one interviews, my previous research projects were done with either online or book research, and observation from a distance. I’m still struggling with bringing up this project to people who could possibly be participants, because I’m unsure of how to broach the subject and word it in a way that would make somebody interested. This was very apparent during my site visit last week, and is something I worry about for my upcoming interview and site visit in a couple of weeks. But I am scheduled to go to an interview with my professor soon that will better prepare me and ease my nerves. I’m excited to be doing research that is preparing me for a future in research professionally, but I’m also nervous to begin independently. Will I ask the right questions? Am I taking the right sort of field notes? These are my main questions going into my first interview.
This project has definitely pushed me to be the first person to reach out, and be more proactive in broaching the subject of what I’m asking for in research. I’ve always been a very shy person but when it comes to being the researcher, being the first person to speak up is a must. With this being the first major research project I’ve undertaken, I’m finding out more along the way about how to approach people for research, what to take note of and record in site visits, and how to reach out to possible participants and ask for their involvement in the project. It’s an ongoing process, and one that I’m excited to continue to learn from. This project is on the edge of leaving it’s beginning stage, and I’m still figuring out the impact my involvement with the project so far will have on its future. Every part of it so far has been a learning moment in some way, and with everything I take away from one part of the project I learn from and use it to help me improve in my next involvement within the research. It’s an ongoing and valuable process that I hope to continue on throughout this summer and develop into a cohesive and knowledgeable report after all of the data has been collected and analyzed.