CM and Reactivity

Finally, there are two ways to lower reactivity in continuous monitoring. One of them is participant observation. Once you’ve built up rapport and trust in a field situation, people are less likely to change their behavior when you’re around. Even if they do change their behavior, you’re more likely to notice the change and take that into account.

The second way to lower reactivity is training. We can’t eliminate observer bias entirely, but lots and lots of evidence shows that training helps make people better—more reliable and more accurate—observers (Hartmann and Wood 1990; Kent et al. 1977). We do the best we can. Just because a ‘‘perfectly aseptic environment is impossible,” Clifford Geertz (1973:30) reminds us (paraphrasing the economist Robert Solow 1970:101), doesn’t mean we ‘‘might as well conduct surgery in a sewer.’’

Joel Gittelsohn and his coworkers (1997) tested the effects of participant observation and training on reactivity in their study of child-care practices in rural Nepal. Over the course of a year, 10 trained fieldworkers observed behavior in 160 households. Each home was visited seven times. Except for a 3-4 hour break in the middle of the day, the fieldBOX 14.3


As video cameras have gotten smaller, easier to use, and less expensive, more field researchers have been using this technology for close examination of behavior streams. Brigitte Jordan, for example, used videotape in her study of birthing events across cultures (1992; see also Jordan and Henderson 1993) and Kremer-Sadlik and Paugh 2007) documented the emergence of what their middle-class informants in Los Angeles called ''quality time'' in everyday family life. You can code video today as easily as you can code written text. More about this in chapter 19. Look for lots more use of systematically recorded and coded video in anthropology.

workers observed a focal child, 2-5 years of age, and all the caregivers of that child, from 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.M. This study, then, involved both children and adults.

The observers coded for over 40 activities, including health-related behaviors, feeding activities, and various kinds of social interactions (punishment, affection, and so on). The rate of some behaviors changed a lot over the course of the year. On average, across 1,101 observations, the number of times per day that a caregiver served food to a child without asking the child if he or she wanted it fell by half.

The observers also coded each time they were interrupted by one of the people whom they were observing (and what the interruption was about: e.g., light conversation, being asked for favors or medicine). This allowed Gittelsohn et al. to track reactivity across the seven household visits. Reactivity was noticeable during the first visit and then fell off dramatically. This study shows clearly that: (1) reactivity exists, and (2) it goes away quickly when indigenous observers stay on the job over time (Gittelsohn et al. 1997).

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