Last week I interviewed my Mum, Cherie about her experiences with watching television as she was growing up. I had the opportunity to gain insights into her favourite TV shows, her most admirable characters, where she sat, who she watched TV with and how it made her feel. As a research technique, this can be seen as a form of collaborative ethnography.
Ethnography simply means an insider’s view into people and cultures. Using the research conducted for my last blog post, Cherie was the insider and we as the audience were able to grasp a sense of what television was like growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. Ethnography is Collaborative and reciprocal, meaning that a shared and almost conversational form of research is conducted, where both the researcher/interviewer and the talent or ‘insider’ are engaged.
I wanted to find out how Cherie felt about the experience, and if she thought this style of research was successful. Obviously it being my mother, a collaborative situation was inevitable to begin with. “It wasn’t like a typical interview where you were after facts and statistics, you were asking personal questions about the space, how the TV made me feel, what shows I liked to watch a why – it was like I was reminiscing my childhood with an old friend.”
In Eric Lasseter’s report “Defining Collaborative Ethnography”, he describes collaborative ethnography by – ‘It invites commentary from our consultants and seeks to make that commentary overtly part of the ethnographic text as it develops.’ When comparing this with the ‘study’ I did into my mum’s television experiences, this can be true. Why and how were prominent in the evaluation process.
In contrast, a research paper conducted by Oztam ‘Australian Multi Screen Report’, was a very quantitative analysis. Its findings revealed facts like ‘22.158 million Australians watched at least some broadcast television each month during Q1 2015.’ However it failed to ask what TV shows people watched; or why they watched TV; why they watched the particular show for; how did it make them feel; where they watched television; or if it affected their everyday life in one way or another. There was no reciprocation or collaborative discussion. Only facts. How much can purely facts a statistics truly tell us?
Lasseter uses personal encounters and previous experiences to articulate the importance or collaborative ethnography and how it can be used to study the media in homes. Not only does this type of research allow for first-hand information that rewards the ‘interviewer’, it also can be rewarding for the participant. This may be through re-living exciting moments, or being able to share a story that may teach a lesson or inspire somebody else. ‘I recognize, of course, that these ethnographic projects are limited in their experience and scope, but each venture has taught me something new about realizing a more collaborative ethnography.’
For my last blog post, Cherie expressed to me that her favourite TV character of all time was Samantha from bewitched and that everything about her from the way she dressed to how she spoke inspired my Mum and made her want to be just like her. This type of information could never have been gained through standard quantitative research. We may have been able to conclude that a number of people watched bewitched or remembered watching it growing up, but we could have never understood how it made people in this era feel towards the show, or towards television and television watching in the home in general.