Challenge 4: Mealtime – Participant Observation

OverviewSome of us carry a strong and positive image of our family gathered around the dining room table for dinner each evening. While we were growing up, dinner may have been the one time in the day when the whole family was together and shared food, stories, lessons and news. For many of us, a great deal of socialization took place around the dinner table. We learned about manners: sit up straight, don’t speak with your mouth full, as well as morality politics or anything else that seemed important to the adults raising us. Some of us on the other hand may have different memories of family meal times. Perhaps they were a time of tension and arguments, or perhaps the family rarely eat a meal together.
Step 1: Data CollectionIn this sociological challenge, you will be doing participant observation research and writing/presenting a short ethnography on mealtime activity. See chapter 2 for a review of this research method. You will pick two different meal times settings or situation‘s to examine. It is best if you choose a mundane, everyday mealtime, and since this is informal research, you don’t need to inform people that you are doing this participant observation. You could select your Thanksgiving meal if that is something you partake in. You can choose from among a range of possibilities, including the following:
Which meal you will study: breakfast lunch or dinner; 🍳 🥗 🍽
Where the meal takes place: at your family home, at a friend’s house or relative’s house, at your own apartment or dining hall or at a workplace lunch room, picnic in the park, or restaurant; 🏡 🧺 🏘🌃
Who is eating the meal, family members, roommates, friends, coworkers, or strangers.👨‍👩‍👧‍👦
Step 2: Analysis
After you do the participant observation at the two meal times, write some informal field notes and answer the following questions in as much detail as you can. These field notes will serve as data for your analysis.
What are the prevailing rules, rituals, norms and values associated with the setting of situation; for example, does everyone sit down to eat at the same time? Do people leave after they finish even if others are still eating? Do you need to get a line to pay or order your food?
What kind of complementary roles are the various participants engaged in? Who cooks the food, sets the table, clears a table, does the dishes and so forth? Or are you served in a cafeteria or restaurant?
What other types of activities besides eating or taking place at meal time: are people watching TV, listening to music or a ball game, reading the newspaper or texting? What are the norms surrounding tech use at mealtime? What do you hear? What’s the volume at mealtime – is it silent – is it loud?
What social purpose is to the setting or situation serve other than providing a meal time environment for the participants? For example, what do the participants talk about? If children are involved, do they talk about school or their friends? Are family activities or problems discussed? What kinds of interactions do you see among coworkers or roommates? And differences between settings and meals? How do participants make these meal times meaningful as social events?
Complete the research process answering the questions provided and reflecting on your own experience conducting the study.
Step 3: Share
Upload your field notes in Canvas –one full page.
In a 3-5 minute Flipgrid presentation, Present any meaningful findings from the questions above and response to: What do you think your observations tell us about contemporary Americans and the practices and functions of meal times? A good presentation will: 1) Clearly state the setting and the research method and 2) Answer the question directly, and 3.) The response will be clearly sociological (meaning using terms from the chapters covered).