Social Research

Fourth edition

by Sotirios Sarantakos

Chapter 9 - Field Research

Explore this chapter's resources further:
Educational objectives
After completing this chapter, you will:
  1. have a good understanding of field research, ethnographic research and case studies and their application in social research;
  2. have acquired knowledge of field research, its types and design, and the way it is employed in social sciences;
  3. be familiar with the context, structure and application of case-study research as employed in quantitative and qualitative research;
  4. have a good grounding in ethnographic research and its status in the social sciences;
  5. have gained skills appropriate to conduct field research and critically assess its results;
  6. have a critical understanding of the role of field research in the social sciences and its strengths and weaknesses.


  1. Field research
  2. Ethnographic research
  3. Case studies

Points to remember

The following are the major points introduced in this chapter. Ensure that you are very confident with their meaning, content, context and significance.
  1. Field research is a form of inquiry that takes place in the field and explores real-life situations as they unfold.
  2. There are several types of field studies, for example, exploratory studies, descriptive studies and hypothesis-testing studies.
  3. Reporting findings of field studies can take many forms. Three common designs are: member-centered writing, writer-centered writing and the mixed format.
  4. In principle, field study designs are similar to the standard research design explained earlier in this volume, only they are less complex and more flexible than quantitative designs.
  5. A case study is defined as 'an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident, and where multiple sources of evidence are used'.
  6. Case studies are employed by qualitative and quantitative researchers.
  7. In qualitative research, case studies are often employed as the main form of inquiry.
  8. In quantitative research, case studies are employed as a prelude to the main study, as a form of pre-test, or as a post-research explanation of the study.
  9. A case-study protocol contains an overview of the case-study project, field procedures, case-study questions and a guide for preparing the report.
  10. There are many types of case studies; examples are intrinsic case studies, instrumental case studies, and collective case studies.
  11. Ethnographic research was borrowed from ethnography and social anthropology and is used in the social sciences in a number of areas, for example, by feminists.
  12. The main theoretical foundations of ethnographic research are culture, holism, in-depth studies and chronology.
  13. The methods employed in ethnographic research are descriptive or critical; they are similar to those employed in other areas but ethnographic fieldwork and ethno-historic research are more characteristic of this type of research.
  14. A brief description of the process of ethnographic research is: (a) accessing the field, (b) becoming invisible, (c) watching listening and learning, and (d) disengaging.
  15. The purpose of ethnographic research depends on the underlying methodology being akin to positivistic and to critical research.

Short-answer questions

Answer each question carefully (there is no need to write down the answer). Consult your Social Research text when your memory fails you or when you are in doubt about the accuracy of your responses.
  1. Describe briefly the nature and purpose of field research.
  2. Name the types of field studies employed in social research.
  3. Describe the main elements of a field design.
  4. Define case studies in simple terms and explain their purpose in social research.
  5. Describe the structure and purpose of case studies in quantitative and qualitative research.
  6. Explain the structure and purpose of the case-study protocol.
  7. Describe the research model employed in case-study research.
  8. What is 'ethnographic research' and how is it employed in social research?
  9. Explain in simple terms the theoretical foundations of ethnographic research.
  10. Describe the structure, purpose and methods of ethnographic research.
  11. What are the criteria of ethnographic research?
  12. How suitable is ethnography for social research?

Fill-in questions

Click here to launch the fill-in questions for chapter 9

True/false questions

Click here to launch the true/false questions for chapter 9

Multiple choice questions

Click here to launch the multiple choice questions for chapter 9


Practical exercises

  1. Prepare a research design to study wife bashing in a country town using ethnographic research.
    a) What type of decisions are required?
    b) What sort of methods will be chosen?
    c) What kind of arrangements will have to be made to facilitate this research?
  2. Use case-study research to explain marital relationships of ethnic migrants in a country town. State the specific objectives of the study and explain how this method will be employed to meet these objectives.