Professor's Voice

David L. Wank

SOC312 INTRODUCTION TO FIELD RESEARCH
This course gives students a chance to bring their book learning out into the real world. I want them to see how the theories of society and culture we read about can really be used to understand the world around them by conducting their own, original research. The course guides students in documenting life in Tokyo while learning sociology at the same time.

Each student completes a project on a topic of their choosing. Instead of sourcing information from the library, they go out into the city to listen, observe, keep notes, sketch maps, take pictures and of course, talk to people. Each class period is a workshop where students share their observations to receive feedback and suggestions. Little by little, they improve their technique and develop a focus. In the end, each student writes a paper based on their observations. No tests, no quizzes: the grade depends upon the quality of the research and ability to say something interesting about it.

It sounds fun to do this field project, but it takes many hours to learn how to properly observe, interview, and record data. Each project is unique and there is a lot of trial and error: students must use their creativity to get the best data. For example, if you study gender relations in salsa dancing, you have to go to a dance club and watch them really dance (and probably dance yourself!). If you want to know how managers treat freeta (part-time employees) you have to find a way to observe them at work (without causing them trouble).

The range of topics is tremendous. Reflecting the social activities and life situations of the students in the class, many are focused on various aspects of youth culture in Tokyo. I am always amazed at the quality of the papers and the variety of topics they cover. This is what learning about society and culture through fieldwork is all about!


Student's Voices


For my fieldsite I chose the campaign office of a Diet member where I worked part-time. I started with Max Weber's idea of legitimate authority and looked at how the office manager, whom we nicknamed ‘the tyrant’, controlled his staff. This showed me how to theorize daily life and develop ways to deal with office politics in my new job!
Graduate who now works in the marketing division of major electronics corporation

I studied cross-cultural romantic relationships between Western women living in Japan and Japanese men. I collected my own data through participant observation and interviews with other Western girls living in my dorm. Sharing my experiences of adjusting to Japan as a Western woman with my informants deepened my perspective on myself ‘as a foreigner’. 
Exchange student from Italy planning graduate work in Gender Studies

I did my field research on a karaoke box, looking at the different ways that people use this social space. It was great that my classmates had various backgrounds because they gave such different viewpoints on my fieldsite in the workshop. This course showed me how sociological theories that I learned in other courses actually play themselves out.
Graduate who is pursuing a career as a singer