A multi part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.
I chose the role of participant-as-observer and peripheral membership as my approach to answer questions that developed even as I carded out my research. Using the role of a peripheral member allowed me to interact as a member while not taking part in all the activities or committing the amount of time considered necessary for complete membership (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998). Being on a limited time schedule, I recognized that attempting a more integrated approachor a slower, more removed observation approach would take longer than the amount of time available.
I wanted to ask people questions about the auction and watch them in action while not being too conspicuous. Being a participant-as-observer and peripheral member allowed me to do that. It also gave me the freedom to put people at ease and still acquire useful data. As Denzin and Lincoln (1998) noted, the value of observation as a participant-as-observer is in the ability and freedom to follow the “flow of events” and be “free to search for concepts or categories that appear meaningful to [the] subjects” (p. 81).
I had questions. I hoped the answers were in my observations. During my investigation, I wondered if the regular attendees came just for the products or did they come for more? I wanted to know what relationships were built after years of seeing each other week after week and if they have a sense of community.
As a participant-as-observer, I attended the Monday afternoon auction held at the Columbus Auction five different weeks during September and October of 2001. During my observation period, I conducted both unstructured and loosely structured interviews and held conversations with various people who attended the auction. I gained permission for my observations from Jack Garner, the owner of the Columbus Auction. In addition, I told my informants about my reason for studying the communication at auctions. Some had questions about my research, but, for most, simply stating that I was a student studying the auction seemed to satisfy any curiosity. I found that many were willing to share their experiences with me once they understood why I was asking questions.
To be continued next week…
Copyright 2001 Michael Shead