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THE FRONT-EDGE: COMBINING METHODS

More and more researchers these days, across the social sciences, have learned what a powerful method powerful participant observation is at all stages of the research process. The method stands on its own, but it is also increasingly part of a mixed-method strategy, as researchers combine qualitative and quantitative data to answer questions of interest.

Laura Miller (1997) used a mix of ethnographic and survey methods to study gender harassment in the U.S. Army. Keeping women out of jobs that have been traditionally reserved for men is gender harassment; asking women for sex in return for a shot at one of those jobs is sexual harassment. (Gender harassment need not involve sexual harassment, or vice versa.)

Miller spent nearly 2 years collecting data at eight army posts and at two training centers in the United States where war games are played out on simulated battlefields. She lived in Somalia with U.S. Army personnel for 10 days, in Macedonia for a week, and in Haiti for 6 days during active military operations in those countries. Within the context of participant observation, she did unstructured interviewing, in-depth interviewing, and group interviewing. Her group interviews were spontaneous: over dinner with a group of high-ranking officers; sitting on her bunk at night, talking to her roommates; in vehicles, bouncing between research sites, with the driver, guide, protocol officer, translator, and guard (Miller, personal communication).

It turns out that ‘‘forms of gender harsassment’’ in the U.S. Army is one of those cultural domains that people recognize and think about, but for which people have no ready list in their heads. You can’t just ask people: ‘‘List the kinds of gender harassment.” From her ethnographic interviews, though, Miller was able to derive what she felt was just such a list, including:

  • 1. resistance to authority (hostile enlisted men ignore orders from women officers);
  • 2. constant scrutiny (men pick up on every mistake that women make and use those mistakes to criticize the abilities of women in general);
  • 3. gossip and rumors (women who date many men are labeled ‘‘sluts,’’ women who don’t date at all are labeled ‘‘dykes,’’ and any woman can easily be unjustly accused of‘‘sleep- ing her way to the top’’);
  • 4. outright sabotage of women’s tools and equipment on work details; and
  • 5. indirect threats against women’s safety (talking about how women would be vulnerable to rape if they were to go into combat).

This list emerges from qualitative research—hanging out, talking to people and gaining their trust, and generally letting people know that you’re in for the long haul with them. If you are trying to develop programs to correct things that are wrong with a program, then this list, derived entirely from participant observation, is enough. An education program to counter gender harassment against women in the U.S. Army must include something about each of the problems that Miller identified.

Although ethnographic methods are enough to identify the problems and processes— the what and the how of culture—ethnography can’t tell you how much each problem and process counts. Yes, enlisted army men can and do sabotage army women’s tools and equipment on occasion. How often? Ethnography can’t help with that one. Yes, men do sometimes resist the authority of women officers. How often? Ethnography can’t help there, either.

Fortunately, Miller also collected questionnaire data—from a quota sample of 4,100 men and women, Whites and Blacks, officers and enlisted personnel. In those data, 19% of enlisted men and 18% of male noncommissioned officers (like sergeants) said that women should be treated exactly like men and should serve in the combat units just like men, but just 6% of enlisted women and 4% of female noncommissioned officers agreed with this sentiment. You might conclude, Miller says, that men are more supportive than women are of equality for women in combat roles. Some men with whom Miller spoke, however, said that women should be given the right to serve in combat so that, once and for all, everyone will see that women can’t cut it.

Are men really what Miller called ‘‘hostile proponents’’ of equality for women? Could that be why the statistics show so many more men in favor of women serving in combat units? Miller went back to her questionnaire data: About 20% of men in her survey said that women should be assigned to combat units just like men were—but almost to a man they also said that putting women into combat units would reduce the military’s effectiveness.

In other words, the numerical analysis showed that Miller’s concept of‘‘hostile proponent of equality’’ was correct. This subtle concept advances our understanding considerably of how gender harassment against women works in the U.S. Army.

Did you notice the constant feedback between ethnographic and survey data here?

The ethnography produced ideas for policy recommendations and for the content for a questionnaire. The questionnaire data illuminated and validated many of the things that the ethnographer learned during participant observation. Those same survey data produced anomalies—things that didn’t quite fit with the ethnographer’s intuition. More ethnography turned up an explanation for the anomalies. And so on. Ethnographic and survey data combined produce more insight than either does alone.

 
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