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Qualitative Research: Case Study 02

Location: Fast Food joint at Pramukh Arcade, Gandhinagar.

Project Information


Course Faculty

Dr. Anand Sukumaran, Dr. Jignesh Khakhar

Ethnography is the study of people in naturally occurring settings or “fields” by methods of data collection which capture their social meanings and ordinary activities, involving the researcher participating directly in the setting, if not also the activities, in order to collect data in a systematic manner but without meaning being imposed on them externally

– John D. Brewer

Ethnography can help investigate very complicated or critical design challenges. Ethnographic research is a qualitative method where researchers observe and/or interact with a study’s participants in their real-life environment. Within the field of usability, user-centered design and service design, ethnography is used to support a designer’s deeper understanding of the design problem – including the relevant domain, audience(s), processes, goals and context(s) of use.​​​​​​​

A branch of anthropology that involves trying to understand how people live their lives. The goal is to see people’s behavior on their terms, not ours. It enlightens us about the context in which customers would use a new product and the meaning that product might hold in their lives.

Research Question
What sounds are significant to the social group? 

What are the insights with respect to the significant sounds? What "meanings" does the social group hold with respect to the significant sounds? What is the life world of the group in terms of meaning and significance?

Researcher's Autobiography

Researcher's frame was established through open coding of the autobiographical data. Synthesis of the researcher’s frame based on the emergent categories from the autobiographical data. An outline of the possible implications of the researcher’s frame with respect to her engagement on the field.

Research Plan

A research plan was devised for engagement on the field.

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Social Group

The Social group consists of three male members.


Note - Names changed to protect the privacy of individuals.


A 23 year old young man who is also pursuing his Masters in Science in Chemistry with specialisation in Organic Chemistry. He completed his Bachelors in Science in Chemistry and wanted to pursue Computer Science (Information technology) but did not like Maths. Therefore, he shifted to Biology with the Intent to pursue B.Sc. in Agriculture but was unable to achieve the required percentage and decided to take up Chemistry. He has recently joined the Masters programme. 

He is a Patel and belongs to a family of agriculturists. His father owns land of 80 acres. He is the only son in the family. He recently got engaged and will get married by this year end. He wanted to start a business and had 3 options in mind, Mobile store, Menswear store (fabric) and a Food Joint. 


He wants to convert his food business into a brand but in case things don’t work out then he will pursue a Government Job of a Clerk. He is the tallest in the social group. He is almost 6ft tall and is healthy with a chubby face. 

“ Dhandha karna tha bas aisa ”


A 23 year old young man working as a Kaarigar here. He cooks and is very skilled at culinary skills with 5 years of work experience in Gujarat. He talks a lot, has a strong voice. He also has very strong viewpoints. His manner of walking, talking and hairstyle stands out in the group. His family consists of his parents and his siblings. He has 2 elder brothers and 2 elder sisters. 2 brothers and 2 sisters are younger than him. 

He has studied till only eighth grade. He had no interest in studies and therefore did not want to waste his parents’ money on his education. Thus, he decided to work and earn money.


“Jismein fayda ho na wahi kaam karne ka. Ismein mehnat waala kaam toh hai nahi, naashta-khaana pakaane mein. Toh yeh kaam sikhna zaroori hai.”


He is 19 years old and the youngest member of the group. He cooks, helps and manages the shop in Seth’s absence. He left his studies after 8th and moved to Gujarat.

He later discovered how important education was and decided to pursue it again. He is currently enrolled in a school and is simultaneously working as a Kaarigar here. His family is in the business of running small hotels. He is the eldest in the family and has a younger brother and a sister. He has no interest in businesses that have already been explored by his family.

His dream is to go to Dubai. He wants to learn how to drive a four wheeler and drive the same in Dubai. He would like to earn, save 3-4 lacs, come back and drive a four wheeler back home in India. He is thin with a quiet and shy personality.


“Is se achha hai..hum apne ghar par gaadi seekh rahe the. Yeh sab kaam se dimaag hi kharaab hota hai... Aisa kaam karna nahi chahta huun main. Bilkul nahi”

Data Analysis

Data collected from the field –

Participant observations, field notes, Short interviews and long interviews. 

Detailed observations were made of the shared patterns of daily life and other phenomena of interest. Open Coding was used to analyse the collected data. Categories were developed through open coding supported with evidence from the Transcripts. Each Category was described, and its interconnections with the other categories were also identified.

Coding Categories

Maintaining distance


Inside Outside /

Idhar / Udhar


Order / No Order





Unusually Hot

Crossing each other


Dikkat / Pareshaan / Takleef






Kaarigar Kaarigar

ka Kaam

Dhandha Kharcha


Make / Bana de /

Banana / Banaunga


Ghar ka / Gaon ka / Humare yahaan

Significant Categories

Contrast category of Inside - Outside / Idhar - Udhar/

Yahaan – Wahaan

Ghar / Gaon ka / Humare yahaan

Kaam / Kaarigar / Kaarigar ka kaam


Dhandha / Kharcha


Dikkat / Pareshaan / Takleef

Order / No Order




Cooler and fan


Preparation - pressure cooker whistling,





Phone -

Ringtone / Ringing,

Swiggy /

Order tone,

Seth calling

Cooking -


light it / up,




crunchiness, crinkling,



burning Flames


Knife hitting

the Tawa

Scraping / Screeching

Hitting /



Moving around - push,





Packaging - Aluminium foil, crinkling and rustling,


Tones of Voice - Normal, Singing, Higher than normal, Conclusive, Surprising, Convincing,

Excited, Complaining,


Assertive, Questioning, Teasing,


Amused, Soft, Confident,




Water -






Cleaning -




Outside sounds





Significant Sounds

Sound of the phone ringing


Phone - Ringtone/ Ringing, Swiggy / Order tone, Seth calling

What “meanings” does the social group hold with respect to the research question? What is the life world of the group in terms of meaning and significance? What are the insights with respect to the research question? 

The sound that is most significant to the life world of the group is that of the phone ringtone.

Whenever the ringtone rings, the group immediately knows whether it’s an order from the customer or call from Seth (an order). This order is directly related to the categories of Kaam, Dhandha and Order. All the three members are working here and have aspirations of their own. Ravi wants to make it into a brand, Mohan wants to earn and save money to live a comfortable life while, Ajay aspires to go to Dubai for which he is simultaneously studying and learning how to drive.

The sound of the ringing ringtone throughout the day signifies the work which binds them all together as a group at the Food joint. The definition of kaam varies individual to individual yet under the same roof they all work together towards their respective aspirations.The phone ringtone reminds Ravi of more orders and more Dhandha. Mohan enjoys cooking and doesn’t want to do any more work other than that of the Kaarigar’s. He doesn’t want to pick up the phone and does not like taking any other responsibility. Ajay is younger than Mohan in both age and experience. He is also related to him which makes it a complicated personal and work relationship. Ajay does not want to work as a Kaarigar. 

The phone on which the order comes is the 'object of power' in this setting. The phone keeps the day in order for everyone in the group. Ravi is able to make money, Mohan is able to avoid responsibility by not receiving orders on the phone and Ajay manages the orders for the shop but at the same time maintains order in his life by stepping out of the shop and staying away from the phone when idle. The three of them are trying to set some order in their life by delivering orders and maintaining order in their life. 

At last, the theme of order resonates with my experience of trying to maintain an order in my own life and having an order with all of them while gaining access to the group. It also reflects how I followed an order to complete my research with all the three members individually. How I had to set an order of proximity with each member as per their personal space in order to become a participant observer to complete my Ethnographic research with the group.