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Social Research Glossary

About Researching the Real World



© Lee Harvey 2012–2019

Page updated 25 January, 2019

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2019, Researching the Real World, available at
All rights belong to author.


A Guide to Methodology

CASE STUDY Example field notes (Filby 1989)

W.B. 13.4.89 237 ** WORK CULTURE: EVENTS **

A batch of new skirts arrived, two each for everyone except Pat, who was well put out. This kept them busy for half an hour. At one point they all disappeared into the back to try on the new 'uniform'. There was discussion about sizes and weight, the cut, fitting and so on. After Dave asked if they were all right, there was general agreement that they were acceptable. I had a discussion with Tina about clothing sizes. She now fitted her 12 but she said that these firms were a law unto themselves where sizes were concerned. She modelled the new skirt, emphasising the evident new found room around the waist band.

I caught the fag end of a discussion of mutual gynaecological interests between Tina, Louise and Pat as I went to show Tina my field notes following the conversation of the previous day.
Tina: 'You won't write this down Mike will you..
Mike: 'Well I didn't really hear, I'll write down “conversation about the inner workings of the female body”, will that be all right?!
Tina: 'Go on then...'
I picked up on the discussion anyway and recounted the tale of my vasectomy, Pat was interested, she was trying to get her husband to have one. But the others were interested too, ignoring the customers, as I recounted the drama of the local anaesthetic and the details of the events in the clinic. My assurances about the relative painlessness of the whole thing would not be enough to dispel the fears of Pat's husband. The discussion then became more open about birth control in general, Pat amused everyone with her account of early 60's courting antics.

I spent most of the afternoon chatting to Billie who was on the pay-out. She made an impressive entrance to the shop at about 1.00. Borrowed some money from Pat to buy a pair of shoes in the sale in Next for work. She introduced herself to me. I could hardly get a word in edgeways. Her chat was machine-gun-like and while she was talking to me she carried out a routine with one of the regulars, demanding that he smile.
'Smile then... that's better', don't spend it all at once.
I'm not going away with you...'

Billie is 30 years old and has a school-age daughter and is separated from her husband. She has worked in the business previously with WH, where she knew Lyn, for 10 years. She came back three years ago when her daughter started school. She got a job with 'the firm' simply because it was the nearest shop, having moved when she got married.

Billie didn't think there was much difference between the two outfits, in contrast to Lyn. The technical aspects of the job were the same and if anything she found 'the firm' a worse company to work for because it was all cloak and dagger. You didn't know where you were going to be from one moment to the next. She came back from holiday a year ago and they told her she was going to another shop. They then wanted her back here as it was a Silver Service shop. They didn't want her to work only 3 days as she had been doing. She refused to work longer. Ricky came down and said you know we don't work only three days in SS shops but he would make an exception in her case. In relation to SS there seem to be a lot of exceptions. Though this seems to be Ricky's style, which is to get out of people what he can even if it means bending procedures occasionally. The reasons were obvious to me, she was a very experienced cashier and as she put it “I have a bubbly personality, I'm always chatting.” I picked up on this theme later when talking about the implicit skills of the job. Once she had been brought back she was put onto SS training tho' this is largely on-the-job DIY training, learning the 50 items etc....
When there were settling queries at the pay-out she always tried to work them out herself for a bit of interest. She loved settling like this without the pressure. In an emergency she once did settling for the afternoon and she found the pace difficult to keep up with and didn't like the pressure but this was only because she wasn't used to it. In fact you were supposed to know the basics of settling to be a Silver Service cashier. She noted that it was very rare that you got asked anything that you had to learn for your SS. She followed up the point made by the others that if the punters thought they had a problem they would naturally go and ask for “one of the lads to come down and sort it out”. She wasn't as annoyed about this as the others but it just signified that it was a waste of time.
I asked then
'What do you think you are here for then?'
he was unequivocal.
'For attractiveness and personality'
Mike: 'Because you're an attractive woman in other words?'
Billie: 'Oh yes...'

At one point we were interrupted by Tina who had picked her plastic name plate up and stuck it on her forehead.
Tina: 'Hey Billie, What's my name?'
Billie: 'Prat...' Uproarious laughter.

Extract from Michael Filby's fieldnotes used in Filby (1989).


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