Ethnography: A Comparative Study of Theory and Methodology
Many techniques have developed over the past several years that have helped to refine the study of people of different ethnic background. The study of culture is subjective and there is no clear-method for studying any given population of people. Researchers have developed many techniques to help identify similarities and differences among various ethnic groups. An examination of these methods can be beneficial in understanding the best methods for conducting ethnographic research. There are many different choices for the study of ethnography. The following will compare the works or Carol Stack in "All Our Kin: Strategies for Survival in a Black Community" and Steven Gregory in "Black Corona: Race and the Politics of Place in an Urban Community." These two works were chosen because they both deal with a similar subject matter, the politics and social arrangement of blacks in an urban setting.
Carol Stack studied the development of Kinship and relationships in The Flats, an African-American ghetto. She studied the support system that forms the coping mechanism for dealing with poverty. One of the more interesting aspects of her research is that she took a non-traditional approach to entering the community. Many anthropologists approach community leaders or those in power to ask permission to conduct research. However, Stack entered the community and conducted interviews by way of an acquaintance from school. She got a view of the subject from the inside, rather than a biased look resulting from the desire to project a positive image for the community.
Previous anthropological research concluded that poor families are unstable and disorganized. However, Stack found that families in the Flats consisted of large, lifelong support networks based on common values, friendship and family. She found that the structure of these networks was highly complex and formally structured. Her approach to the research created confidence among the people whom she interviewed. This may have be the primary reason for the differences in her conclusions, as opposed to those found by previous anthropological studies. She debunked many myths concerning family structure and relationships in poor black communities.
The data that Carol Stack collected was highly subject in nature and her narrative approach relied primarily on qualitative analysis. She supported her theories by the use of stories, vignettes, and personal accounts. This supported the research that she proposed and added to the general interest of the work. It would be difficult to derive quantitative data from this type of subject matter. Stack chose the most appropriate method for studying the subject and placing the issues within proper cultural context.
Steven Gregory also studies race and cultural issues in the urban community. Gregory's work expanded on that of Stack as it focused on the working class political activism and community among black residents North Corona and East Elmhurst, in Queens, New York. Until this point much of the research into black communities focused on poor communities and highlighted the disorganization and powerlessness of the people to change many aspects of their lives (Borges, p. 1). Gregory wished to break this stereotype and study blacks with a different socio-economic status.
Gregory used an examination of local periodicals, interviews with activists, and first-hand observations to study community life and politics. Gregory's work is much less personal than Stack's approach. Gregory views the subject from an outsider's perspective, rather than trying to get down and personal as in Stack's work. Gregory concentrates on the history and formation of the two communities from the early 1900s through the mid-1990s. Gregory emphasized those things in history that enabled or hindered black people in these communities from participating in politics (Borges, p. 1). Gregory uses a qualitative approach to examine his subject matter.
A surprising parallel was found in the results of Gregory's study and that of Stack. Gregory found that discrimination played a major role in the formation of the community that eventually emerged. Discrimination in housing, hiring, lending, and social practices were the reasons behind the development of the almost exclusively black community.
As blacks tried to cope with discrimination on an individual basis, they started to rely on others like them for support. As this happened, the community began to develop its own racial identity (Borges, p.1). This identity began to override other distinctions among black residents, such as class, length of residence, and other factors that were used to distinguish various factions. Gregory found that a strong sense of community developed among residents of the communities. This finding supports Stack's findings. Blacks were found to have a strong sense of community and camaraderie among the residents.
Gregory stated, that Corona/East Elmhurst section
"is a Black community, because, through much of its history, its residents have been subjected to practices of racial discrimination and subordination that inextricably tied their socioeconomic well-being and mobility to their racial identity and to the places where they have lived and raised their children. And, equally important, Corona is a Black community because its residents fought back as a Black community" (Gregory, pp. 10-11).
"Black families living in The Flats need a steady source of cooperative support to survive. They share with one another because of the urgency of their needs. Alliances between individuals are created around the clock as kin and friends exchange and give and obligate one another, (Stack, p. 33).
Both communities arose from a common sense of urgency and desperation. One could draw many similarities between the community image created by Gregory and that created by Stack in terms of a sense of community and family relationships. Both of these communities are of different socio-economic status. Gregory found a higher degree of political activism in his community, but Stack's community also demonstrated a sense of community pride that was not connected to the economic status of the community. This necessitates a closer examination of the methods used for the research study.
Gregory attempts to move from a general view of the community and the forces such as class, gender and race that helped to shape it. He concentrates on external forces and then focuses in on the internal forces that shape the community. He does not get into the personal level that Stack does. His work gives a macro-view of the situation. Stack concentrates on the internal forces that shape her subject's motivation and internal coping mechanisms. It could be said that her work gives a micro-view of the situation.
Gregory does not miss the actions of the individual and the personal stories. Stack fails to give an overview of the situation and how it shapes the direction of the development of the community as a whole. From this standpoint, Gregory's work is a better method, as it gives both a holistic and individualized view of the development of the ties within the community. Because of this point-of-view Gregory is able to draw causality better than Stack.
Gender relations were addressed by both authors. Both used case analysis and example to support their theories on gender-based power struggles. Gregory uses the case of a female politician to support his theories on a patriarchal society among middle class blacks. He supports his claims by using the story of a female politician whose ideas are largely unsupported by the males in power. She must constantly minimize her role to make them look good so that they will support her ideas in the future. She needed their support and was powerless without it. Gregory draws generalizations about power inequality from this single instance.
Stack uses the example of a poor black girl who gets pregnant. The husband is supportive at first, but when he loses his job he begins to spend more time at bars and eventually with other women. The girl finds that she has more power because of welfare and community support. She finds herself to be independent and powerful. The male is portrayed as weak because community support is stacked in favor of the women and children in the community than for men. Marriage is difficult because the male cannot meet the demands of society and kinship at the same time (Stack, p. 113). Stack sees marriage as a symbol of the desire of both parties to break out of poverty.
A key weakness in the tactics used by both authors in the study of gender issues is that it is impossible to determine from the information presented if the scenarios presented are typical within the communities. It may be that they happened to find an exception to the rule, rather than examples that represented cultural norms. Both authors use their examples to draw conclusions and make generalizations about the community as a whole based on these singular examples.
This is a fallacy of generalization that can be found in many anthropological works. It is assumed that the case is a typical situation, but it cannot be determined if this is the case or whether the case is an anomaly. In both instances, the examination of more than one case…