Tag Archives: ethnography

teamwork-382677_1920by Karla Erickson

How do we make sense of our lives and choices when we are told we are living amidst decline? As one way of thinking about the consequences on self-making in the post-recession economy, I have embarked on a new study of young workers called Millennials Navigating Lean Times, which uses interviews and observations of students from the millennial generation as they transition from college and make sense of opportunity, failure, luck and choice in the post-recession economy.

By interviewing graduates between 2000 and 2015, I capture their surprise, frustration, and how they make sense of opportunity and failure as they encounter a dramatically different world than the one encountered by their parents. Since 2013, along with two undergraduate research teams, I have interviewed 30 recent graduates of liberal arts schools asking questions about turning points in their careers, decision points, achievements, failures, and what they have learned about themselves from their working lives. The terrain on which they attempt to build adult lives feels new, uncertain.

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Libby Levi for via

[Ed note: Interested readers should check out Elizabeth Popp Berman’s response to Howard’s post, which she posted on OrgTheory.]

Over the past year, I’ve met with many doctoral students and junior faculty in my travels around the United States and Europe, all of them eager to share information with me about their research. Invariably, at every stop, at least one person will volunteer the information that “I’m doing a qualitative study of…” When I probe for what’s behind this statement, I discover a diversity of data collection and analysis strategies that have been concealed by the label “qualitative.” They are doing participant observation ethnographic fieldwork, archival data collection, long unstructured interviews, simple observational studies, and a variety of other approaches. What seems to link this heterogeneous set is an emphasis on not using the latest high-powered statistical techniques to analyze data that’s been arranged in the form of counts of something or other. The implicit contrast category to “qualitative” is “quantitative.” Beyond that, however, commonalities are few.

Here I want to offer my own personal reflections on why I urge abandoning the dichotomy between “qualitative” and “quantitative,” although I hope readers will consult the important recent essays by Pearce and Morgan for more comprehensive reviews of the history of this distinction. For a variety of reasons, some people began making a distinction more than four decades ago between what they perceived as two types of research – – quantitative and qualitative – – with research generating data that could be manipulated statistically seen as generally more scientific.

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As the debate sparked by the New York Times’ Sept. 8th 2013 piece on gender equity at Harvard Business School (HBS) continues, HBS teaching cases still get distributed to students, HBS class sessions continue to be meet on a regular basis, and HBS faculty members still review their teaching notes before stepping into “the pit” (i.e., the center of the classroom).

My ethnography of faculty socialization at HBS emphasizes the above recurring campus activities rather than gender dynamics on campus. But even recurring activities can take on a gendered flavor.


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