If we want to delve deeper into how society works, it is not enough for us to stay at the level that can be described using “quick” methods such as questionnaires. Both participant observation and ethnographic interviews require us to get closer to the people whose lives we study and to establish a kind of relationship of mutual trust. It takes weeks, even months.
We could compare it to observing a game of chess from a complete beginner’s point of view. If we, as complete novices, entered a chess club in the middle of the game, perhaps we would be able to summarize the basic rules by observation and well-chosen questions (what moves are allowed for each figure, what situations lead immediately to winning or losing, what a draw looks like, etc.). However, such observations and one-off interviews would be far from sufficient to reveal the tactics used in chess; we would not be able to distinguish the distinctive style of players from something that they themselves consider a mistake, and so on. In that example with a chess game, a very important element of participant observation also appears – we penetrate deeper into chess only when we try to apply the acquired knowledge directly in the game.
It is similar in field research. Of course, in those few months we will not become equal members of the community under study. However, the key is to try to find a position in it that will be understandable to the locals and that will allow us to immerse ourselves in the game as much as possible.