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6 reasons why ethnographers love working with film

Posted: November 23 2011

Friend and Semiotician Rachel Lawes recently invited me to present at an event at the Market Research Society on Video ethnography. During the lunch break one of the attendees asked me “doesn’t it make it harder to capture normal behaviour if you’re filming?” Well initially yes, but then shortly after – assuming you have established a good rapport – the dynamic between ‘researcher’ and ‘respondent’ changes. People are made to feel like participants. From that point on observations begin to feel less intrusive, more inclusive. At this point don’t ask questions when filming, watch, listen – learn. Get out of people’s way. I think the flip side of working with film really out weighs any of the disadvantages.

The key ones to keep front of mind:

  1. Film allows us to see and capture a range of activities in their natural settings over an extended period of time
  2. It supports field notes, verifies accounts and claimed observations
  3. It allows reflexive analysis. Rewind – review (repeat)
  4. Uncovers telling details
  5. By sharing film with participants we gain access to emic accounts so the scope of interpretation increases
  6. Ethnographers can draw connections between participants claimed versus actual behaviour.

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