In the last few days I’ve received several more e-mail messages from Americans who live in San Miguel, most of whom has expressed an interest in talking to me. Finding the people you want to talk to, and then completing the actual interviews, are the two most challenging aspects of ethnographic fieldwork. In fact, the most common question I get from students and friends when I tell them I’m starting a new book project is, “How do you find the people you want to interview?”
The blog has been a helpful tool in this case. Here I can outline the project and wait for people to find me, then (hopefully) refer me to their friends. But the blog is also a limited ethnographic tool. When I get to San Miguel early next week I plan to take 2-3 days to get unpacked and organized. Then I’ll spend 3-5 days walking around the city and trying to get a feel for neighborhoods outside the jardín (central plaza) and more common tourist destinations.
Once I’ve met a small core of people, perhaps as few as 5-7, I’ll begin asking them to refer me to other people in their acquaintance who might also be interested in participating in the study. This is known as a snowball sampling method; it allows the researcher to examine the experiences and opinions of a particular social network. It does not produce a random sample, however, so the results cannot be generalized to the broader population.
My hope now is to look at several different social networks so as to get a more nuanced view of how life works for Americans, Canadians and other expatriates and their Mexican neighbors.