Objective: The purpose of this assignment is to apply participant observation or interviewing techniques to collect cultural information. This will be a written report and will you need to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of key concepts of culture.
Project Idea: You will choose a culture of your interest (e.g.: a local coffee shop, a student organization, a minority group, etc.) and invest several hours of observation of your chosen culture’s inner workings (the rules, rhythms, artifacts, way of life, etc.) or interviewing a person whose culture is not the same as yours.
Deliverable: Following the observation or interview, you will try to decode the inner meaning member(s) of this culture ascribe to in their everyday interactions. You will analyze your findings in a 5-page paper. A very good presentation/paper will enable the audience to understand key features of the cultural aspects you explored.
Steps to do it: Ask someone (in the class or elsewhere) who has a different cultural background than you to be your interviewee. (Please be mindful of the definition of culture as a pattern of thought or way of life.) Before meeting your cultural interview partner, spend some time thinking about questions you’d like to ask him/her. Ask important questions related to the objectives of our course, including issues of identity, power relations, communication with other cultures, barriers or facilitators of intercultural understanding, and stereotypes. You might also do some initial research before meeting about their culture if you are unfamiliar with their culture. This way you make sure you are prepared to ask meaningful questions. This experience will take the form of unstructured interview or field/participant observation exercise. The engagement should take you about 3 hours of gathering information. Go in with starting questions and ask more or write notes from your observation of other issues—based on how the experience flows. For example, ask follow up questions to clarify or expand on important points meant to capture the internal logic of the culture you’re engaging with.
Spend enough time to observe or ask questions about their culture and listening to their story as it unfolds. Frame your questions within the context of the interviewee being a witness or informant. If at all possible, audiotape your interview so that you don’t have to rely solely on your notes to develop your paper but this is not required. If you decide to tape it, make sure to receive the consent of the interviewee first. To capture the moment, take a picture of the two of you that you can paste in your paper—again, with the expressed approval of the interview subject. Immediately following the interview, recapture your listening and learning experience while your memory is still fresh. These reflective notes will be important when you write your paper. Make sure to capture non-verbal communication cues from your subject(s).
Now you’re ready to write your paper or slides. Divide your project into three section headings:
Overview: Your overview is an introduction to your work. Reflect on at least one academic or professional source that helped you frame your inquiry and what you continue to be curious about. This establishes the context for your reader. Discuss why you chose that person/community, where you met, how long the interview was, and whether you think you achieved your goals.
Analysis of findings: Prepare a presentation or write an analysis about what you learned from the conversation about the culture you observed or the person you interviewed and their culture. Make this section a coherent analysis and not a listing or transcription of the answers to your questions. Remember that you don’t have to cover all of the issues or questions and your experience may have gone in a direction that wasn’t anticipated or represented by the questions you had prepared. Either way, describe the process of data gathering as planned and unfolded. Besides learning about another culture, discuss what you learned about your own culture and yourself as a communicator. Be as specific in this section of your paper citing examples of when you used the various concepts of the course or when these concepts were helpful to you.
Reflection: What did you learn from this interview about being a multicultural listener? What aspect of this experience will stay with you as an important aspect of communication across cultures? What most surprised you as you communicated this way with your cultural partner? Did this experience give you a better understanding of the other culture? If you are left with more questions, that is fine and significant to reflect on. Were there questions, in hindsight, that you wished you had asked? How might this experience influence your learning in the future as a multicultural communicator?
Format: 5 pages of text typed, double spaced, 12 point font (preferably Times New Roman). Include headings for each of the three sections above. Although slides are allowed, you are still expected to capture key information, inferences and conclusions from your data gathering. Some students find it easier to capture these elements in a paper format.
1. Conduct initial research to set the parameters for your data gathering (deciding on a focus and starting questions for the inquiry).
2. Set up a date for your data gathering activity (whether an interview or participant observation).
3. Collect the data
4. Perform the data analysis, writing the paper or developing the necessary slides