Jessica Hocking 

This study will use ethnography to examine a nightclub space within Plymouth. 


“Ethnography is the study of people in naturally occurring settings or ‘fields’ by methods of data collection which capture their social meanings and ordinary activities, involving the researcher participating directly in the setting, if not also the activities, in order to collect data in a systematic manner but without meaning being imposed on them externally”.

(Brewer 2000:6)


In order to research the social, which is what I intend to do, it is necessary to use qualitative methods of research.  It is very difficult to use quantitative methods as you are dealing with thoughts and feelings, which are relatively impossible to quantify, as each different person will have different thoughts and feelings, “qualitative researchers often assume that dependence on purely quantitative methods may neglect the social and cultural construction of the ‘variables’ which quantitative research seeks to correlate” (Silverman 2000:5).  I also feel that one would get a greater understanding of social behaviour by collecting qualitative data, “the aims of [the] research may involve understanding of social phenomena in ways that do not require measurement and quantification; while the nature of the phenomena themselves may rule out quantification” (Abercrombie et al 2000:284).


There are several ethnographic methods of data collection, of which I shall be using mainly participant observation, “this refers to a research technique in which the researcher observes a social collectivity of which he or she is also a member.  Such participation allows the researcher to observe covertly, without the collectivity being aware” (Abercrombie et al 2000:256).  As I am already a member, and have been for some time, of the group I wish to study I felt that this was the best, and easiest, research method to use.  It should be relatively easy to covertly observe the group as I will not arise any suspicion by being there, (it would probably arise more suspicion if I were not) as I am deeply embedded in the particular group I am intending to study.  There are, however, disadvantages to already being part of the group,


“The more familiar the situation to you, the more likely you are able to make premature judgements and the more effort you will have to make to avoid them” (Kane 1984:54).


As I have been to clubs in Plymouth before and have also socialised with the group I intend to study I will have pre-conceptions before I begin to undertake the research.  To assume that I will be able to be completely detached from the subject of my research is masculinist scientific approach and I feel is not possible and is not ethnography.  Feminist geographical research, however, assumes that people know a great deal about their own lives and their knowledge is valid, Moss highlights the importance of placing oneself within the research to show why you are taking the route that you are.


“Placing feminist work as well as placing yourself as a feminist researcher in the context of research in geography and in feminism – contextualizing your work – makes it easier to see where you are coming from and where your work is going” (2002:3-4).


One of the main reasons that I chose to study the subject in question is because it is a social group that I am a part of and have knowledge of and wanted to investigate further, the masculinist view would be that I would be unsuitable to research this group as I would be unable to be completely objective in my observations, but ethnography is all about being subjective.  The results I obtain will be completely different from the results any other researcher would obtain studying the same topic, this is because I will observe certain things and ask certain questions because of my views and the knowledge I already have, Cook and Crang argue “it is this very subjectivity that gives ethnography its reliability.  Ethnographers cannot take the naïve stance that what they are told is the absolute ‘truth’” (1995:11).  I believe that my positionality will be an advantage and will allow me to discover more relevant information, for example having easy access to and knowing the best people to interview.  Many ethnographers spend a great deal of time trying to meet suitable gatekeepers, then having to gain their trust in order to obtain further information, I already know the gatekeepers and those further along the research list so the time saved in trying to obtain access can be better spent developing the research.  Silverman highlights the advantages of researching familiar territory, “if you can, work with data that are close to hand and are readily accessible…so that you can concentrate your energies on the infinitely more important task of data analysis” (2000:28)


Cook and Crang (1995) highlight the importance of understanding power and knowledge whilst undertaking research by considering if anyone involved in the research, either the researched or the researcher, may be badly affected by or resent the research.  Being the researcher I will have the power to decide what to include in the final draft, it will be my decision what is important and what is not based on my knowledge and this ultimately may, for one reason or another be detrimental to a person or persons, “we therefore believe that it is vital for the prospective ethnographer to consider whether the community in question might resent and/or suffer badly as a result of having such a “viper in its bosom”” (Cook and Crang 1995:18-19).  I feel that the research I intend to undertake should not cause any such problems, however, if any do arise I will ensure to consider seriously the impact of my study on the group. I will, however, insist that all of those involved in the research will remain completely anonymous, unless I have been give specific permission to name them.


Participant observation can be useful in determining further objects of study or areas in which to research further, “it [participant observation] can be used as a generalised technique when you first get your research idea, to help you decide what aspect of the problem you really want to look at.  It may also help to clarify your ideas and develop categories for later examination” (Kane 1984:55).  I feel that this style of approach will be very useful for my research, as, although I have a basic research idea, to look at the development of a club space and why that space is important to the youth culture, I do not have, at present, any specific questions to ask.  By looking at what I have observed over the first two weeks I may discover certain areas that I wish to develop using other research methods.


I visited the club every Saturday night from the date it opened on 1st February 2003 for six weeks, during this time I observed the atmosphere, and what created it, the music being played and its impact and the clientele.  On returning home I completed a weekly diary of my observations.  I also recorded my own perceptions of the club as a clubber, which I can compare with my observations of other clubbers experiences.  Whilst in the club I conducted some very casual interviews with other clubbers asking them about their feelings about the club and clubbing in general and tried to discover what is important to them about clubbing.  It was impossible to conduct anything but very casual interviews within the club for a number of reasons.  Firstly, an interview that is too formal would be too overt, secondly, to tape record or write down the responses would again be too overt and also very difficult in the club situation as the music is loud and it is very dark.  I made short notes in the toilets and wrote them up on returning home.  Finally, the people I intended to talk to were not used to interview situations and may have found it unnerving, which may have meant that I did not get as much information from them compared to what was divulged to me in what appeared to be a casual conversation.  Marshall highlighted the problems encountered by asking to ‘interview’ people, some may see the actual use of the word ‘interview’ as too formal and may respond differently than if you just asked to chat,


“She greeted me at the door, and led me into the living room, where I encountered a stiff backed, neatly combed man sitting, looking extremely uncomfortable.  No jokes that evening, no long rambling stories; this was to be an “interview”; both the fisherman and his wife were on edge” (Marshall cited in Moss 2002:179-180).


I also conducted an unstructured interview with one of the club managers.  As he was aware that I am conducting research it did not matter that I was overt.  The interview was unstructured as I wanted the interviewee to offer me as much information as he could.  There were basic questions that I asked but I did not wish the interviewee to feel that he was unable to talk about topics that I had not mentioned, as he may of provided information that I had not thought to ask about, “you want to get from each his or her own perspective; each of the answers may lead you to develop a new question” (Kane 1984:64).


I did involve some quantitative methods, a questionnaire to quantify the number of people who agree or disagree with what I have discovered from the interviews and participant observation.  This involved respondents indicating what they feel are the least and most important of a number of statements.  This allowed me to confirm or disregard observations that I have made.  By completing this style of survey I was able to create graphs of the results which may be useful in my final analysis.  Conducting a questionnaire within the club space was relatively difficult especially as I wished to remain relatively covert in my research.  The questionnaire had to be easily understandable to the respondents as many may have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol and respondents would not have wished to spend a long time completing the questionnaire as they were in their leisure time.  It was also important to obtain a reasonable sample of those in the club space, it was not possible to select everyone in the club, unless it was a particularly quiet night, so I randomly selected respondents, every individual in the club must have the same chance of being asked to complete the questionnaire, “a random sample of those attending a dance [or club] would have to be taken in such a way that every person there including those on the dance floor, those in the ladies’ room, those courting outside on the terrace and wall-flowers hiding behind pillars had an equal chance of being selected.  This would hardly happen if you simply sauntered onto the dance floor and picked the first fifteen people you met” (Kane 1984:91).  I felt the best way in which to select respondents was to ask them as they left the club as they had experienced the club and I was not overtly asking questionnaires within the club, it was also much quieter outside of the club.  I needed to enlist some help to ask the questionnaires as I had to complete about 200 in order to get a representative sample.  Kane advises training and testing any interviewer-assistants, “you might save yourself future aggravation by testing potential interviewers for ability in some of the basic tasks of questionnaire administration; specifically, recording accurately and legibly, following instructions, and being able to stick to the sampling procedure” (1984:81).  I did not have many difficulties with my interview-assistants as I used a fellow student who is practiced in questionnaire administration.


I also used photography to collect visual data.  Photography was not used as a main research method it was used merely to illustrate; to show what the club space actually looks like, so as to give the reader a better idea as to where the research has taken place and perhaps some idea of the atmosphere within the club.