Master’s Series on Field Research


Master Series Playlist on YouTube (closed Captioned)

Almost sixty years ago, Fritz Roethlisberger, Elton Mayo, George Homans, William Foote Whyte, and many other sociologists, psychologists, and business practitioners would come together and discuss their views and experiences in studying how members of organizations actually behave. Roethlisberger and Dixon’s “Management and the Worker” (1939) and Whyte’s “Street Corner Society” (1943) are two of the many volumes resulting from these classical efforts.

In the last fifty years, researchers all around the world have developed useful theories and a practical understanding of how organizations work.

With varying professional backgrounds and degrees of training in sociological methods, psychological research, business studies, and real work experience, organizational scholars and practitioners have been leaving their classrooms and offices to join organizations. Their common goal in each case was to observe, interview, and understand organizations’ members and organizations as a whole.

More recently, second and third generations of social scientists and business practitioners have become interested in examining how previous researchers studied organizations. This renewed interest may be related to the view that although these early qualitative exploratory approaches have been foreshadowed more recently by quantitative approaches to studying organizations — survey techniques, sampling techniques and computer modeling approaches – much may be learned from these seminal efforts. Thus, there is renewed interest in field based methods developed by sociological and anthropological researchers such as Mayo and Whyte.

As earlier researchers asked, a new generation of researchers are asking questions such as:

  • How do we gain access and entry into these organizations and develop meaningful and lasting relationships over the years?
  • How do we effectively measure constructs related to organizational culture and dynamics, and organizational effectiveness, fairness and diversity?
  • What were the strategic, methodological, practical and ethical dilemmas that these previous researchers faced and how they still relevant today?

It may be that we are at a pivotal point in the study of organizational behavior in particular, and in field research in general. The distinction between qualitative and quantitative research is less valid and useful. With recent developments in computer technology, we also are at a methodological crossroads where exciting developments in technology may be combined with personalized, human, and concerned approaches to research in the social sciences.

To help in the emerging dialogue, it always is helpful to understand theoretical and methodological roots and to learn about the experiences of early researchers. Indeed, this is the nature of the scientific endeavor.

This master series documents one project on field research. From 1983 to 1985, Professor Blanck interviewed and observed practitioners and scholars of field or clinical research to learn about these roots. At the time, Blanck used the term “Gestalt research” to describe the exploration of the wholeness and richness of the field research experience. This series documents that learning and perhaps provides insight and perspective into what lies ahead.

Please send us your comments or additions to the information in this series so that we may continue to expand its perspective, usefulness and relevance.

The development of this master series is made possible by grants to Peter Blanck from: (a) the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, for the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Workforce Investment and Employment Policy for Persons with Disabilities, Grant No. H133B980042-99, “It Works,” Grant No. H133A011803; “Demand Side Employment Placement Models,” Grant No. H133A060033, “Technology for Independence: A Community-Based Resource Center,” Grant No. H133A021801; “Southeast Disability and Technical Assistance Center (SE DBTAC),” Grant No. H133A060094; and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) for RRTC on Employment Policy for People with Disabilities, and (b) the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability and Employment Policy, Research on Business Case Studies Contract #E-9-4-6-0107. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Labor, or any other entity.