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Compare and Contrast How Content Analysis and Ethnographic Research Have Been Used to Study Children’s Understanding of Friendship.

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By StazAnC
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Friendship holds distinct significances and values to different people and cannot always be effortlessly expressed. A subject which had not seen much recognition prior to the 1970’s was how friendship is perceived by children. This essay is to provide the likenesses and differences between two studies which investigated this subject. The first study which will be discussed was accomplished by Brian Bigelow and John La Gaipa in which they used the content analysis approach. The second study to be considered was completed by William Corsaro in which the ethnographic method was used.
The research by Bigelow and La Gaipa was similar to that of Corsaro’s as not much research had been done prior to their investigations within the study of friendship in children. However these investigations differentiated in the method of how data was obtained and portrayed. In 1975 Bigelow and La Gaipa requested 480 children, with an equal range of girls and boys, aged between six and fourteen years to write essays on friendship. They requested 60 students each from eight difference schools, 30 boys and 30 girls, from eight different areas in America. The specific information targeted was what they sought in a best friend and how this differed to other relationships they had. (Brownlow, 2012, p.242). The approach they took to their findings was content analysis, they had exchanged the qualitative data they held into quantitative data. Bigelow and La Gaipa collated the data from these essays and converted them into a numerical format so that a frequency count could identify any consistencies within the study. They had a determined list of twenty one friendship expectancies and tallied these when found in an essay (Brownlow 2012, p.243), only these matching attributes were collated into their concluding results.
The approach in which they took to the information they wanted to obtain from the study seemed to them, the easiest way to collect such monumental data. Bigelow and La Gaipa’s study was to acquire the understanding of children regarding friendship during different development stages of their lives (Brownlow, 2012, p.242). The main focuses were the differences between gender, age and backgrounds and with the children being able to write in their own words, it gave an individual feeling to their experiences of friendship. Some, however, may argue that by turning this collection of essays into quantitative data, particular feelings or views may have been lost (Brownlow, 2012, p.245). On the other hand, at the time of this research, children’s experiences with friendship was a topic that wasn’t much studied and therefore a best way to obtain such information hadn’t yet been presented.
A few criticisms to note on the way Bigelow and La Gaipa executed this study in regards to using content analysis to obtain the data. Firstly, the question of whether children as young as six are able to express their feelings correctly in the form of an essay or were they articulate enough. Bigelow and La Gaipa themselves raised this as a concern prior to their investigation (Brownlow, 2012, p.245). There is also the concern as previously discussed on the loss of personal views and context which the children may have discussed in their essays. By changing the data to a tallied format, not everything discussed in the essays will be considered in the final conclusion. This also leads to the notion that looking for the twenty one predetermined expectancies could have led to the loss of other important expectancies included by the children being missed by the use of content analysis (Brownlow, 2012, p.246).
The results of using content analysis produced the notions that at different ages, children expect different things from their best friends. It provided the basis that as children develop, the things that matter to them change. Bigelow and La Gaipa formed the impression that there are three stages to the development of children’s understanding of friendship. The first stage shows that children base their friendships on the prominence of activities that they join in together, however this was a stronger concept with boys as there tends to be a stress on sports activities which is more in a boys’ interest. There is then the perception that a sense of devotion and sharing is more valuable as a child grows and then such expectancies as beliefs, hobbies and having someone to confide in take form. The conclusion that Bigelow and La Gaipa formed was that as a person grows, their basis of friendship becomes more complex (Brownlow, 2012, p.244).
The importance of Bigelow and La Gaipa’s use of content analysis was that it was the first of its kind into the study of children’s understanding of friendship. It also aided the introduction of such a subject being investigated and provided the verification that as children develop, their expectations of friendship do too (Brownlow, 2012, p.247).
In contrast to Bigelow and La Gaipa’s content analysis approach, Corsaro’s study was based on observations and note taking as he used an ethnographic method. Rather than the study into a substantially large number of children’s observations, he himself monitored children’s interactions on a lesser scale which made using an ethnographic approach easier. He was not concerned by consistencies or generally matching any expectancies and therefore his approach did not need to concern any numerical data. (Brownlow, 2012, p.248) He did so by examining them from a distance until the children accepted him. He stated that he used a reactive method in which he waited for the children to welcome him in to their social circle and allowed them to take leadership (Interview with William Corsaro, 2010). In doing this, he wasn’t seen as an adult, with whom children see as dominant personalities. It ultimately allowed the children to express themselves and interact with each within a comfortable environment.
Whilst both studies focused on children’s understanding of friendship, Bigelow and La Gaipa’s study focused more on the developments through age whereas Corsaro focused on children’s individual understanding of friendship. Corsaro’s main focus of study was to see how children interacted and addressed each other in everyday situations. He, similar to a study by Damon (1977), believed that children’s understanding of friendship should be addressed on an individual basis rather than produced in a numerical format and therefore their personal feelings and communications would produce a better insight into children’s understanding of friendship.
Corsaro’s findings brought different results to those of Bigelow’s and La Gaipa’s. Some may argue that as he was a part of the group in which he studied, he was able to see first-hand the instances in which children understood and portrayed friendship thus his results were more accurate. The key factor in Bigelow and La Gaipa’s studies was that as a child develops, their expectancies of friendship also develops. As previously discussed they found that devotion was more a foundation of friendship in older children. However, Corsaro found an indication that this isn’t necessarily true. Seen in one of the interactions present in his results was a conversation that took place between two three year old girls (Corsaro, 1985, p.166 as cited in Brownlow, 2012, p.253). Betty and Jenny exchange concern for each other’s feelings when Betty plays with another child and reassure each other that they are still best friends.
A criticism that was found in Bigelow and La Gaipa’s study was the concern of whether children of a younger age could express their judgements or opinions. Corsaro managed to overcome such an issue by permitting the children to carry on their interactions without his interference. Therefore the need to articulate their feelings was unnecessary. One significant issue that arose from Corsaro’s ethnographic approach was that as an adult, how it would be possible for him to integrate in with the children. He ensured that as it was the children that invited him into their friendship group, this wasn’t a major concern (Brownlow, 2012, p.251).
Corsaro’s study was important as it produced a new variable into the concept of children’s friendship. The ethnographic approach gave a further insight into how younger children interact with each other, without the concern of them needing to explain this to someone else. It provided a new basis that although they may not be able to transfer their thoughts and feelings on friendship into words, they still had an understanding of what friendship meant to them on a personal level. It also provided a counter argument to Bigelow and La Gaipa’s study by contradicting how expectancies change with age and presented the notion of how methods used create inconsistencies in results (Brownlow, 2012, p.253).
In conclusion, the content analysis approach and the ethnographic method have both been practical when studying children’s understanding of friendship. Whilst each technique of study provided differing results, they both provided a further insight into a topic which lacked a great deal of prior investigation. Where Bigelow and La Gaipa provided an overview on children’s expectancies, Corsaro accomplished a most likely preferred result by gaining a glimpse into the more personal feelings of children’s friendship.…...

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