Ethnography of the city

Ever since the first blog on sampling was posted in April by our colleague Melissa, we have had so many discussions to decide on our study participants. Much of our discussions during the pre-fieldwork stage were concerned about capturing the trends in each country, and how they seeped into everyday as well as grand narratives of respective research sites.

Among many things, the toughest challenge that we face is how to select twenty cases from each research site. Our early experiences in the field guided us to narrow down our focus only to few areas instead of keeping our focus on the entire city. To this end, we have started to dig deeper the context that might provide us a rich backdrop for ethnographic data.

As the research is interested in children’s participation in public life and the circuits of social action, we have decided not to go with adult constructed a-priori labels for sample selection. But in reality it posed some practical questions, mainly, how would we select twenty children from a city where there might easily be hundreds of thousands of children in the sampling age group?

Literature talks about different types of cases in research such as theoretical cases, empirical cases, emblematic cases and so.

When I was doing my PhD I had a similar kind of dilemma about the choice of study respondents. Whenever I have spoken with people about my research they have challenged me gently that the form of childhood that I was considering for research was that of deprived children, not of all children in the city. Some even argued that the characteristics portrayed in the sampling were mainly urban and that it does not have any rural characteristics.

As a qualitative researcher, I was well aware of the particularity of the study, yet their conversation provoked me into thinking in a rather different way, about how the representation of childhood itself is understood differently in different contexts. For example, when I moved further up north in India, say to Delhi, then people agreed that, at least partly if not fully, the characteristics presented in the study are the depiction of childhood of Tamil Nadu. Interestingly, when I presented my paper outside India, people considered that these are to some extent the characteristics of Indian childhood. Above all, in the childhood literature, the study participants are subsumed into one big category, which is the childhood of the majority world. So, not only is childhood a social and cultural product but its representation differs from context to context.

In Connectors, one of the research questions that guided us in sampling selection from the beginning has been the heterogeneity of study respondents. As like any other country, in India, there are children living in a fortunate environment and there are children living in harsh reality who literally struggle to make their ends meet. The difference doesn’t end there only with the level of affluence and there are myriad social, cultural and religious factors too that shapes children’s everyday experiences.

After so much of deliberations and reflections from our field experiences, we worked out a sampling rationale that includes, besides heterogeneity, parental activism at the local level as one of the criterion, as the research is interested in circuits of social action. Of late, we realised that it would be appropriate to spread out our sample recruitment across the city where there is less possibility to get heterogeneous cases within few areas.

Guided by this framework, we began the process of recruiting for our research. We are aware that not all children in the city or country would share the same features, which our potential study participants would share, and there would be numerous differences in characteristics. There are certain specificities but, at the same time, there are some commonalities that intrinsically absorb every child into one category, that is, childhood.

Therefore, we hope that, in a way our study participants would represent the quintessential childhood of each city or country and in another way it is a fact that the quintessential childhood of each city and country would certainly have at least some qualities of our study participants.