Unusual methods, marginalized people

This is a text I thought about for a long time. I hoped that I would find a nice theory that someone else suggested for the observations I made, but I was unable to find one or maybe unable to see the ones I know from a perspective that made them useful.

The standard method (aside of participant observation) to collecting ethnographic data is the research interview. This means the researcher asks open questions, the research participant tells their answers. The researcher makes notes and usually the interview is then transcribed, this is translated into a text.

However, not all data aside of observation notes is collected in interviews. There are also other methods that result in other data that can be analyzed. However, they are much rarely applies. They are marginal, unusual methods. Looking at the fields where I found them used, it seems that they are mainly used in research with marginalized people. In these fields there seems to be a much wider range of methods. While researchers there still use interviews, there are also creative exercises, diagrams, story continuation etc. The diversity of research methods seems to increase inversely to the power the research participants can exert.

  • A fellow researcher suggested that methods for researching the situations of minorities needed to be invented, implying that the standards methods were not helpful in the research intended. This implies that research methods need to be seen as very contextual and that the “standard” might cover only a fraction of imaginable research situations well.
  • Non-interview methods seem also be used if not only the participants are marginalized but also when the topic is marginalized, that is something that (at least dominant groups in western society) do not make the center of their everyday social activities: Such topics might be sexuality, illness, death, abuse or discrimination. These are topics which are "difficult to talk about". Aside from the struggle to emotionally confront these topics, people might actually lack words and experience in talking about these topics, thus it makes sense to use other means of communication. This is a very plausible. It does not challenge that the interview is the "normal" method, though.
  • Standard methods have been developed by and for powerful people and subsequently have been inscribed in the academic infrastructure, making an interview normal and other methods unusual and in need for justification. This is strengthened by the field’s frequent assumption that what is social is mainly communication using language, a convenient assumption in a discipline already based on writing and discourse 1.
  • The conversation-like interview is a very non-threatening situation at least for male, white, middle-class people: Meeting-like, being asked as an expert on a topic to share experiences. Any introduction of elements that are seen as unusual can be seen as threatening. The non-interview method is unusual and the related artifacts (lets say crayons for a creative task) are obvious markers of the power the researcher has over the situation. The artifacts of the methods might remind people that are seen as less powerful (e.g. use of creative, art-like methods = negatively judged as childish and illiterate). An interesting research question would be how participants from dominant and minority groups reflect on research situations with different methods.


Related Articles: “Images in qualitative Research: A (very brief) review of reasons of non-use ”.

Some research I came across is for example drawing methods in qualitative health research:

  • MacGregor, Andrew ST, Candace E. Currie, und Noreen Wetton. „Eliciting the views of children about health in schools through the use of the draw and write technique“. Health Promotion International 13, Nr. 4 (1998): 307–18.,
  • Jones, M. Gail, und Melissa J. Rua. „Conceptual Representations of Flu and Microbial Illness Held by Students, Teachers, and Medical Professionals“. School Science and Mathematics 108, Nr. 6 (1. Oktober 2008): 263–78. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1949-8594.2008.tb17836.x,
  • Guillemin, Marilys. „Understanding illness: Using drawings as a research method“. Qualitative Health Research 14, Nr. 2 (2004): 272–89.

Diagrammatic representation in therapy:

  • Czuchry, Michael, Donald F. Dansereau, Sandra M. Dees, und D. Dwayne Simpson. „The use of node-link mapping in drug abuse counseling: The role of attentional factors“. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 27, Nr. 2 (1995): 161–66.
  • Dansereau, Donald F., Sandra M. Dees, Jack M. Greener, und D. Dwayne Simpson. „Node-link mapping and the evaluation of drug abuse counseling sessions.“ Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 9, Nr. 3 (1995): 195.

Drawing in psychology/gender/presentation:

  • Braun, Virginia, Gemma Tricklebank, und Victoria Clarke. „“It Shouldn’t Stick Out from Your Bikini at the Beach”: Meaning, Gender, and the Hairy/Hairless Body“. Psychology of Women Quarterly 37, Nr. 4 (1. Dezember 2013): 478–93. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684313492950.

Method collections and case studies.

  • Braun, Virginia, Victoria Clarke, und Debra Gray. Collecting Qualitative Data: A Practical Guide to Textual, Media and Virtual Techniques. Cambridge, UK ; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
  • Benzon, Nadia von, Mark Holton, Catherine Wilkinson, und Samantha Wilkinson. Creative Methods for Human Geographers. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2021.

These method collections are interestingly not from sociology or anthropology, but from fields that are not strongly associated with qualitative methods – geography and psychology.

  1. Hirschauer, Stefan. "Ethnographic writing and the silence of the social-Towards a methodology of description." Zeitschrift Fur Soziologie 30.6 (2001): 429-451.