Qualitative Analysis (ethnography)

In grad school, I studied Qualitative Analysis under Dr. Shirley Drew at Pittsburg State University‘s Communication Department. Below is the second part of my response to a final question about qualitative analysis in the field.



Auctioneers in Columbus, Kansas

I conducted a qualitative study of the communication and community at an auction house located in Columbus, Kansas during the fall semester of 2001 at Pittsburg State University. This study took me on a journey through the qualitative approach to research. As a journalist I had performed similar observations and interviews, but never before had I the freedom to involve myself in the event and the written evaluation of that event so freely. While I was cautious at first, I came away with a better understanding of the usefulness of this qualitative approach to research. Besides the understanding of this approach, I also found a research method that melds well with my experiences as a journalist and one that I am sure to use again. Continue reading

Brochures or booklets?

I just had a friend ask me about how we connect people at ResLife…

How does Res keep everyone informed of all the ministries/opportunities at the church? The church I’m part of now wants to make cards for each ministry so people can choose whatever interests them but it’s too expensive to do it that way.

Do you guys just have one big brochure or do you do one for each ministry? Any feedback/tips would be greatly appreciated!

We’ve toyed with this in several ways. We’ve done the individual ministry brochures, and we’ve done the one book with everybody’s info.

Currently, we’re moving away from the individual ministry brochures because of the time, printing and effort involved with those. Using our “Get Connected” booklets we provide people with a complete list of our ministries, departments, pastors, etc. This is updated about every four months.

For our small groups we have a booklet called “Get ResLife” that has our life groups listed. We also have these listed online. Continue reading

E-mail choice and social responsibility

A recent post on Tech Scoop shows that rates of social involvement when it comes to giving donations. Check out these charts:

Number of Transactions by e-mail provider

Number of Transactions by e-mail provider

From the stats, mac users are the most active when it comes to being involved with giving donations. While they are active at giving, these active hip young users are out given when it comes to amount by the savvy trendsetters using Gmail, Yahoo, AOL and Hotmail for their e-mail services.

Amount of donations by users of specific e-mail providers

Amount of donations by users of specific e-mail providers

What’s this say about e-mail providers, users, and social responsibility? Among many things, it would seem that these leading e-mail providers have connected with a demographic that not only says they want to be involved and responsible, but actually do! I’m curious about the age range of these user groups and if this would indicate anything about a younger generation starting to be more active in giving even though the amounts may be small. A grass roots development in people connecting with causes could lead to marketing plans and campaigns based not only on ages, location, etc., but on e-mail providers.

What are some other ways we could use this info to focus on those who actually do take action?

Auction House Social Club — Reflections

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.



Meeting members of the Auction House Social Club like Black Jack and the many others who contributed to my research at the Columbus Auction has confirmed what my dad’s story about my deaf uncle pointed out to me years ago. These members have taught me that auctions truly are more than a place of financial enterprising. Auctions are “clubs” of social interaction built on a sense of community derived from extended communication and association.

gun1As a result of my research, I also realized that those who attain the high status of member in good standing are not your every day fly-by-night shoppers who are out only for a bargain. No, high status at the AHSC is attained by those of a different breed–a breed of people who are willing to weather the cold or heat of the seasons, willing to spend time as well as money and willing to accept others while sharing a part of themselves. They do it because they enjoy it.

As I reflected on my research, I realized that it was a continuation of a quest for community that began at one of the first auctions I can recall: the sale of my grandfather’s service station where the men lounged near the old potbellied coal stove. I remember the excitement as my cousins and I played hide and seek weaving our way through the crowd while the auctioneer blared out his song. As a child I was exemplifying what now understand: the location of and items at an auction are the fragile strings that bring people together for fellowship and allow the individuals to meld into community. As I told the auctioneer on my last visit to the AHSC, someday I want to return and see this community again-to see Black Jack and the others because I now see them as more than subjects of a study. They are members of a community I’ve tried to understand.


To be continued next week…

Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

All references available: https://drypixel.com/159/auction-house-social-club-references/

Auction House Social Club — Masquerade

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.


Membership Masquerade

At the Columbus Auction, there was a myriad of characters who paraded down the auction aisles every week and each character had a part to play. There was window man, carousel lady, auctioneer, assistant, junk dealer, antiquer, entertainment seeker (who just came to see the festivities), and, during my time at the auction, the participant observer among many others.

Attendance at this masquerade was a required part of the membership fee at the AHSC. While reasons for attending were unique to a person, each member chose to be there week after week because without them the AHSC would not exist and their presence would be missed.

Each member played his or her part in the masquerade. For the crowd, the masks remained up but, in private circles, members relaxed in the shade and masks fell aside revealing a common denominator. As members, everyone was a participant-friend. Those who returned to the auction floor maintained their role in the masquerade, but those privileged to the conversation knew they caught a glimpse of the man or woman behind the curtain. 

In October of 2001,I met the masquerading window man in a moment of repose. As the auctioneer slowly made his way down a row of items, 73-year-old Bill Osburn sat on a small table waiting for the auctioneer to reach an item he had his eye on. Like a golfer waiting for his turn on the green, he sat in the sunlight just watching the activity around him. His worn plaid shirt was threadbare in places and both his shirt and pants showed specks of white paint that had splattered during a recent painting project. He had an easy-going demeanor, a will to talk, and stories to share to listening ears.

“I grew up in the 1920s,” he told me. “I’ve been a plumber, bellboy, and even worked for a tanner, but now I do some painting and sell windows. That’s mostly what come to the auction for-windows.”

Although he masquerades as the window man at the auction, Bill lowered his mask to reveal what he really loves to do-play the guitar and sing.

The old man took me over to his truck and played a few tunes on his guitar. One of the songs he sang was made famous by country singer John Michael Montgomery. The song told about a romantic relationship that began at an auction:


Bill Osburn breaks from the bidding area to play his guitar for me.

Well, the auctioneer was goin’ about a mile a minute. /He was takin’ bids an’ callin’ them out loud, / An’ I guess I was really gettin’ in it / ‘Cause I just shouted out above the crowd! /An’ I said, hey, pretty lady, won’cha gi’me a sign. / I’d give anything to make you mine all mine. I’ll do your biddin’ an’ be at your beckon call. . . . / I’m goin’ once, goin’ twice, / I’m sold! On the lady in the long black dress. / Well she won my heart it was no contest . . ./ Yeah, we found love on the auction block, An’ I hauled her heart away. / Now we still love to laugh about / The way we met that day (Fagan and Royer, 1997).

Even country songwriters have recognized the relational value of auctions. In their song Fagan and Royer romanticized the relationships that can be built when people get together, communicate, and find common ground in the things that bring them to that location.

While the unmasked Bill Osburn has a hankering for the six strings, at the auction he was after a friendly chat and a few windowpanes.

Continue reading

Auction House Social Club — Sharing Tales

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.


Sharing Tales

The sharing of stories is an integral part of the AHSC. The telling of one’s story and exchanging of tales are part of the building blocks that support the AHSC. Without the communication of individual experiences in the form of tales and stories, the community itself would be very fragile indeed. Adelman and Frey (1997) noted that communication is more than a single variable in the equation that makes a community. Rather, they describe community as the result of communication. “Community itself is best regarded as a phenomenon that emerges from communication” and “Communication is thus the essential, defining feature-the medium-of community” (p. 5).

Part of the communication that occurs among AHSC members are the stories of great deals they made or almost made. These conversations build rapport among the members as they share in the common feeling of loss and hope for another opportunity in the future. 

black-jack-billIn an interview with AHSC member, L. Horton, she told me about a bargain that got away:

I walked in and there was this huge statue. It was a bronze statue. Huge. So I knew who had signed it. It was signed and everything. One out of six. This guy was going to sell it to me for twenty-five hundred dollars, if I remember right. That’s iffy. It was right in the neighborhood of twenty-five hundred dollars and I could have probably got it for less. Well, at the time I was getting married, fixin’ to move up here and I took my fiancé and I said, “Hon. I think that this is a realRemington.” 

You know, the guy at the store thought it was a fake.

Long story short, I didn’t get it. He said no way are we going to get a fork lift and move that thing, you know, so many miles. I had the money and everything, you know, but he said, “No.”

I went back a couple of years ago and I walked in . . . and said, “What happened to that Remington you had in here?” I said, “Remember that big statue you had in the front of this place -that Frederick Remington?”

He said, “I gave it away.” He said, “Really, I got three thousand dollars out of it, but I gave it away.”

And I said, “You did?”

He said, “Yeah.” He said the guy who bought it had it appraised for a million dollars. And that’s a true story. And it was a real Remington.

And I think that has always sparked knowing there is stuff out there. It’s just hard to come by. You don’t think there is things out there like that, but there is.

AHSC members trade stories of loss and gain like fishermen swapping stories at the coffee shop on a Monday morning. As they sharing about the “one that got away” the members establish and sustain the community of the auction by taking on “shared meanings” that they find through the telling of their personal narratives (Adelman Frey, 1997, p. 5).

Conversations about loss and gain also help to preserve the community itself by planting hope that the mother lode or that big fish is out there waiting to be found. Just as the fellow fishermen felt a loss along with the old man in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (1952), members at the auction identify with each other through the sharing of stories that relay common experiences. They can identify with that loss and hope that such a break will come to them some day.

As heard Horton’s story, realized that I feel a sense of camaraderie with her because of my own experience of loss at an auction. I once found a nice camera and a great lens at an auction. With other things to do, left the auction and later found out that the camera sold for next to nothing. Only making the sense of loss greater, the auctioneer later told me I should have said something to him, because he would have sold it while I was there had he known I wanted to bid on it.

To be continued next week…

Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

All references available: https://drypixel.com/159/auction-house-social-club-references/

Auction House Social Club — Rounds

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.


Making Rounds

Increasing status and relationship between members require personal as well as the professional interactions. Members accomplish this by holding conversations and sharing information outside of the bidding circle. In my field notes I recalled some of these interactions.

Inside the auction barn, an old stove became the center of interactions for a group of men on one cold auction day. On that chilly and wet October afternoon, the auctioneer was slowly making his way through the wet items on the open lot while the enclosed auction barn became a haven for the chilled. Inside the auction barn, an overhead furnace belched warm air onto about 30 people who had gathered inside out of the cold. Some, like the three elderly ladies who had selected seats in the path of the warm airflow, were sitting and chatting with friends and acquaintances while others wandered about the barn looking at items, drinking from steaming cups of coffee or hanging around an old coal stove. auctioneer1The old stove with its stovepipe chimney that exited the building through a nearby window was cold and dark but still seemed to represent a gathering place for men. Middle-aged and older men walked up to the stove and put their hands out for warmth. They seemed disappointed at the unresponsive cold iron, but still they lingered as if the stove itself drew them together. As long as other people were there, it didn’t seem to matter that the stove was cold. Eventually, the old timers left, but another group soon reconvened at the stove. They, too, held up their hands and commented that the stove didn’t work well. While they realized that the stove wasn’t working, it still seemed to represent a point of connection, reminding me of a group of men who liked to sit around an old potbelly stove at my grandfather’s service station.

Although, recent arguments have arisen against the correlation between community and place (Bird, 1999). I propose that place as well as products play a major role in linking participants or members to a community. Bird (1999) quotes Doheny-Farina as supporting this concept: “A community is bound by place, which always includes complex social and environmental necessities” (p. 51). While the auction house plays the role of place, also found a location and item that illustrates the principal of products linking participants to a interaction as part of a community.



To be continued next week…

Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

All references available: https://drypixel.com/159/auction-house-social-club-references/

Auction House Social Club — Good Standing

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.


Achieving ‘Good Standing’

Throughout the early stages of membership at the AHSC, interpersonal relationships are being built. However, it is not until the initiate reaches the third stage that they achieve the title of member in good standing. 

The third stage of social standing at the AHSC is marked by the key factor of recogonizability among other members and the auctioneer. Members who attain this level receive a sort of tenure at the club receiving a permanent bid number as a symbol of their high status as well as the general recognition by other members as a “regular”.members

While official recognition comes from interactions with the auctioneer, the high relational status is achieved among members by making rounds and taking part in membership activities that building relationships.


To be continued next week…

Copyright 2001 Michael Shead

All references available: https://drypixel.com/159/auction-house-social-club-references/

Auction House Social Club — The Talk

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.


The Talk

New bidders must learn to understand the auctioneer and the rhythm of the auction song that may seem unintelligible to the untrained ear. The way auctioneers move their lips reminded me of a baby blowing his lips and letting them flap in the breeze or of someone imitating the Warner Brothers cartoon character Porky the Pig who ended cartoon shows with “bdib, bdib, bdib, bdib, that’s all folks!”overview

While auctioneers do not have the legendary reputation of used car salesmen, they are known for an occasional exaggeration. I once heard of an auctioneer who said he never lied…unless he had too. Maybe they don’t lie, but they do try to look on the bright side of their products.

At the AHSC, the auctioneer opened bids on an “antique table” that was nothing more than an extremely warped table top made of pressed wood drooping over a supporting frame on four old turned table legs. Keeping a rosy view of his products, the auctioneer claimed, “Put a new top and you’ve got a nice table”.

Later, while trying to sell a large squirrel-cage fan, the auctioneer assured everyone that the fan worked and had been used in the building standing nearby. “It kept blowing out the end of the building,” the auctioneer said of the fan. “That’s why he’s getting rid of it”.

I don’t know if the people believed him or not, but the fan never sold while I was there. By the time I left the auction the fan had been sitting on the lot for several weeks. Who knows how long it sat there before I came. Continue reading

Auction House Social Club–The Bid

A multi-part entry from observations at an auction house. Starts here.


The Bid

For some veterans of the AHSC, the bidding may have lost its thrill but for me, this ritual was as exciting as ever. To me, the novice bidder, the suspense built as the auctioneer neared the item I was hoping to win. That particular time I had my eye on an old wall hanging that looked like a colonial-era drum. I thought it might be worth something. In my field notes I recorded this bidding experience:

I’m almost mesmerized by the auctioneer’s song as he gets closer to [the drum] I’m interested in. The more I think about it, the faster my heart race when I see my item on the block. I have to keep my cool and remember how much I’ve already decided I’m willing to spend. If I get caught up in the moment, it may cost me dearly when it comes time to pay my dues at the clerk’s desk. auctioneers

I did win the bid that afternoon. As I picked up my drum, I heard other bidders comment that it might be worth something when it is cleaned up. That was music to my ears.

In the second stage of membership, the newly dubbed member reaches the status of “bidder”. The more active the bidder, the more rapidly official status increases. (By official status, I mean the status among the officials who run the Columbus Auction.) However, bidders wishing to increase their membership status with other members must recognize that there is more to the AHSC than just buying things. It is a community. Continue reading