- Announcing: War Stories
- Steve’s War Story: It’s All Going To Burn
- Tamara’s War Story: What the Hell? Don’t you knock?
- Tell Us Your War Story
- Vanessa’s War Story: DDoSed in Vegas
- Dan’s War Story: Focus, no matter what!
- Priya’s War Story: Taking empathy to a whole new level
- Tom’s War Story: Go with the flow
- Mary Ann’s War Story: Be Prepared
- Leo’s War Story: No, We Really Meant the User
- Nicolas’ War Story: Do you want me to act?
- Diane’s War Story: Interrupted Interview
- Kelly’s War Story: Pictures are language independent
- Susan’s War Story: The trust dance
- Gavin’s War Story: It’s 4:00 a.m., Do You Know Where Your Ethnographer Is?
- Dan’s War Story: Shanghai Surprise
- Fumiko’s War Story: Goodbye cruel world
- Greg’s War Story: Taking notes, getting detained (sort of)
- Jon’s War Story: Beware of Trap Doors
- George’s War Story: Skyfall (or A View to A Kill)
- Lisa’s War Story: When Rapport Goes Too Far
- Sean’s War Story: Pockets full of cash
- Francoise’s War Story: Black glances cast our way
- Brandon’s War Story – CATastrophe
- Greg’s War Story: Biting off more than I can chew
- Michael’s War Story: The glass is more than half full
- Raffaella’s War Story: Learning to deal with expectations
- Greg’s War Story: Culture shock
- Elaine’s War Story: I thought my client was going to die
- Dennis’s War Story: Negotiating between sympathy and empathy
- Debbie’s War Story: Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss
- Carla’s War Story: A dirty diaper sitting in the mud
- Apala’s War Story: Whose side is the researcher on?
- Jaimes and Aico’s War Story: Sumimasen!
- Elysa’s War Story: Keep The Swiffer On Your Right
- Sharon’s War Story: Broken Windows Theory
- David’s War Story: Footloose
- David’s War Story: Suit yourselves
- Prasad’s War Story: Skin in the game
- Daria’s War Story: Human Thresholds
- Jen’s War Story: Trust your gut, it can save your life!
- Ryan’s War Story: Enthusiasticus Interruptus
- Valerie’s War Story: Rank order
- Rachel’s War Story: Subject Matter May Be Inappropriate
- Cordy’s War Story: A Crisis of Credibility
- Marta’s War Story: On confronting judgement
- Whitney’s War Story: Stories of War
- Kavita’s War Story: Managing money, oh joy!
- Ilona’s War Story: First Stop the Bleeding!
- Elaine’s War Story: They call me Mister
- Tom’s War Story: House Rules
- Alicia’s War Story: Don’t hate on a tinkler
Sean Ryan, a corporate ethnographer, reflects on a fieldwork experience where he learned first-hand some crucial lessons when going into another country: pre-recruit participants, and do some basic homework about where you are going.
It was back in my early days as an ethnographer. I was still a young pup in the field, doing consulting projects. I was teamed up with an Elder Anthropologist – a Puerto Rican woman who lived in Guadalajara, named Luz. We were doing a project for a major pharma company who had just had great success with a new oral care product, so they thought they would try an ethnographic exploration to uncover any other unmet needs. I think their aspirations at the time were something like “We want the next $500 million consumer product!” Luz and I were to visit two field sites in Mexico: Guadalajara and Tijuana. Living in Los Angeles, I was relatively close to the border and it wasn’t yet seen as that dangerous to go to Tijuana (i.e., no Mexican mafia drug lord street battles…at least you didn’t read about them in the papers everyday). But I still had my reservations, not possessing any potent Spanish language skills (outside of the slang I had picked up from bartending in a Mexican restaurant in Long Beach).
Having only been to Tijuana once to explore the finer points of Avenida Revolución (read: drinking tequila shots with college kids and having my head shaken back and forth by a woman with a whistle), I had no real frame of reference for doing fieldwork in TJ. As I quickly learned, neither did my counterpart Luz. She had some relatives in TJ, but had never done fieldwork there. And so we made what we later realized was a critical error in not pre-recruiting participants before we went into the field. Upon arriving in Tijuana we quickly found ourselves literally approaching people in the streets, in shops, etc. to ask about their oral care routines (a strange encounter for the locals I’m sure). While this has all the hallmarks of classic guerrilla recruiting it’s never a comfortable situation to be in, especially in a foreign country. Luz was doing her best to recruit people while I stood by idly awaiting our field day fate.
Eventually we started to have some success…or so we thought. One women who worked in a nice department store in downtown TJ offered to let us come to her home after work. We got her contact info and told her we would see her that evening. We were offering $150 in US cash (this was more than 10 years ago) to interview the participant and observe their oral care routines. This, no doubt, was more than substantial for an incentive. So we were quite confident that we would have no problems grabbing participants on the fly. That evening, we made our way to this women’s house via an old Crown Victoria station wagon taxi (with the suicide seats facing out in the back). Once we got to her town we approached the participant’s door and gave it a confident knock…but nobody answered. We waited a few minutes longer and knocked again…still no answer. This was before mobile phones, so we couldn’t exactly call this women on her cell. We sat and waited for 15 minutes, but then realized that our day was quickly wasted on a participant who, for whatever reason, decided she did not want to do the study (Perhaps she thought the $150 was too good to be true?). In a moment of desperation, Luz decided to frantically go door-to-door in this small community, hoping for a shot at someone’s teeth and mouth. But to no avail.
This disastrous field trip continued. The next day we tempted fate again by preying on another unsuspecting citizen of Ciudad Tijuana. Once again, we arranged to go visit a shopkeeper’s home later in the evening. Once again, we had no idea where exactly our little field visit would take us. And once again we crammed ourselves into an old Crown Victoria station wagon. This time we were left off at what appeared to be a small village of Gypsies. It was, in fact, just a typical working class abode on the outskirts of the city. I brazenly brought out my Sony DV camera with the Carl Zeiss lens and began filming the local scene as we walked through the streets to find the right home. We were very excited to actually find the participant’s home and then to actually find her in her home!
It was a very interesting interview: the participant was a mother of two, a 9-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son. We observed their oral care routines, which consisted of going out to the backyard to gather water from a large plastic drum (as there was no running water), after which the children vigorously brushed their teeth with your standard run-of-the-mill Colgate toothpaste and toothbrush. When we paid the mother $150 (US) cash at the end of this encounter, her eyes lit up. I realized at that moment that this was probably more money than they made in a month. And so we broke another field rule: understand your surroundings and pay participants appropriately based on the context. But there was bit of a feel-good moment here too; the client could clearly afford the incentive money, so it was no skin off of their backs.
After this first round of field visits in Tijuana we came back about a month later for a second round, with different participants. We interviewed a relative of Luz’s who lived in a canyon high above where we had visited last time. He laughed out loud when we told him that we had been down in that village only a month ago. He said with all seriousness “Don’t you know that is the most dangerous area in all of Tijuana?!” Of course we had not known this. I thought back to the $800 Sony camera that I slung around in the streets of that village. And then I thought of my pockets full of cold, hard US dollars. I laughed to myself, but thought “I need to be a little more careful in the future if I’m going to make a career of this ethnography business!”