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Gray's research methodology adapted for analyzing Romania's economic and cultural transformation - challenges and benefits

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Gray’s research methodology adapted for analyzing Romania’s economic and cultural transformation – challenges and benefits

East European societies represent a rich research field for ethnography. Once the constraints of  censorship and totalitarian systems removed, the ethnographic researcher has an almost unexplored ground at his horizon.

There is an active debate regarding the question if  researcher’s empathy within a culture could positively contribute to the research work or it is preferably being “an outsider” who sees the research field through different lenses. I would choose the former and apply the research methodology and analytical strategies presented by Ann Gray adapted on “Romania’s actual economic transformation towards society of consumption in relation with socio-cultural identity change”, having in mind at least couple of reasons:

  • To better understand the cultural layers one has to live or had lived within   that culture. Beside the outer layer represented by symbols, rituals, heroes whose meanings are accessible to an outsider as well, there are values, practices which are invisible to outsiders (Hofstede, 1997).

  • To better respond to the ethical questions such as be aware of researcher’s own biases that could impact data, requires an introspective attitude assuming that researcher is familiar with cultural dimensions under study.  Researcher must also retain the power of interpretation where constraints related to language could enter loss of sense.

As Ann Gray (2003) suggests the most fruitful ethnographic method is field research.

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It is a common research practice to distinguish between primary data (never published, usually gathered by researcher) and secondary data (books, articles). The scope of this example will be the former, mostly because in Romania’s case secondary data could be outdated due to its rapid evolution of market and identities.

Once the qualitative techniques are chosen, one of the most important benefits of the ethnography is the depth of observations. Frustrations, opinions, beliefs and behaviors of everyday life are brought to light to determine the characteristics of actual Romanian society of consumption in parallel with the change of identity.

In-depth interviews include both individual interviews as well as group interviews (most recommended  would be focus groups due to its applicability to market research). Individual interviews will be applied as ethnographic, elites interviews and life history. In Romania’s case study individual interviews are going to reflect possibly the differentiation of new social categories. Focus group interviews gives the opportunity to combine qualitative and quantitative methods, an additional benefit to reflect the transformation of Romanian society towards consumption. The data can be recorded in a wide variety of ways including stenography, audio recording, video recording or written notes.   The purpose of the interviews is to probe the ideas of the interviewees about the phenomenon of interest. An ethical question regarding the anonymity will determine the acceptance of recording (audio and/or video)

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One objective of Ann Gray’s book, according to the editor is “to offer practical guidance on the craft of research from formulating a topic to presenting it in written form”. This goal has been achieved and the two chapters studied not only bring the “taste and flavor” of ethnographic research but presented methodology adapted to specific cases may represent  a constructivist powerful tool for the cultural area studies research. As Ernst Von Glasersfeld  (1996) quoted: “the human activity of knowing cannot lead to certain and true picture…[but] creating the keys with whose help man unlock paths toward the goals he chooses”.


Gray A., 2003. Research Practice for Cultural Studies : Ethnographic Methods and Lived Cultures. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.

Hofstede G., 1997. Cultures and Organizations. Software of the mind. 2nd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kaplan, B. and Maxwell, J.A., 1994. Qualitative Research Methods for Evaluating Computer Information Systems. In: Anderson, J.G., Aydin C.E. and Jay S.J.  Evaluating Health Care Information Systems: Methods and Applications. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, pp. 45-68.

Lewis, I.M., 1985. Social Anthropology in Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, C., 1976. Hermeneutics and Politics. In: Connerton P., Critical Sociology: Selected  Readings, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd, pp. 153-193.

Von Glasersfeld E., 1996.  Radical Constructivism: A Way of Knowing and Learning. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Maria-Cristina Marin, Montréal, 21st of December 2003

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