Shadowing: Warrants for Intersituational Variation in Ethnography

David Trouille & Iddo Tavory

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Trouille, D. & Tavory, I. (1). Shadowing: Warrants for Intersituational Variation in Ethnography. Sociological Methods & Research, 48(3), 534–560.

Ethnography , immigration , interaction , intersituational variation , violence

This article makes the case for shadowing as ethnographic methodology: focusing attention on what occurs as interlocutors move among settings and situations. Whereas ethnographers often zoom in on one principal set of situations or site, we argue that intersituational variation broadens and deepens the researcher’s ethnographic account as well as affording important correctives to some common inferential pitfalls. We provide four warrants for shadowing: (a) buttressing intersituational claims, (b) deepening ethnographers’ ability to trace meaning making by showing how meanings shift as they travel and how such shifts may affect interlocutors’ understandings, (c) gaining leverage on the structure of subjects’ social worlds, and (d) helping the ethnographer make larger causal arguments. We show the use value of these considerations through an analysis of violence and informal networks in an ethnography of immigrant Latinos who met to socialize and play soccer in a Los Angeles park.

Main finding
The authors offer four theoretical justifications for shadowing ethnographic participants through multiple social contexts: to strengthen intersituational inferences, improve the ability to track meanings and how they change, reveal shifts in meaning and self in different contexts, and to shore up causal narratives. To display these four warrants, the first author shadowed interactions between men in regular soccer games at a Los Angeles public park. The park offered a space to build reputations and test the trustworthiness of others when recommending peers in the informal labor market. Work and play were intertwined facets of the men’s lives, with shared experiences playing in the park affecting their perceived work ethic and general reputability. The park also served as a stage for conflict, allowing men to evaluate each other through physical altercations. Ultimately, the authors argue that intersituational variation produced through shadowing is a promising methodology, enlarging the scope of research and providing different perspectives on the experiences observed.

Description of method used in the article
The first author shadowed men playing in a long-standing pickup soccer game and observed their interactions and behavior over a five-year period. After two years, the author was able to go beyond the boundaries of the park into the men’s workspaces and other social spaces such as bars and restaurants. In addition, the author went on daily tasks with the men (i.e. picking up children or purchasing supplies). During these five years, 48 instances of violence between park goers were observed.

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