Limitations: Personal Assumptions and Biases
This brief section looks at some of the politics that complicated my research. On one hand, fraternity members sometimes discussed the secret rituals that are considered sacred by their fraternity. On the other hand, the women studies program at Oregon State University held specific (and sometimes inaccurate) ideas about the nature of male bonding at US fraternities. I had to walk a tightrope between the two.
From the start, this thesis was hindered by three factors; locating a large enough sample group to discuss the many issues relating to their male bond, structuring interview questions which permit fraternity members to openly discuss sensitive subjects such as male bonding rituals, and building trust with participants in light of my Women Studies major. Despite these obstacles, fraternity male bonding and inter-male conflict can still be effectively described, discussed, and analyzed using ethnographic methodology.
It is likely that scholars will question the validity of my sample group. It represent sonly a small fragment of a very large institution and the results might be biased toward the attitudes of those willing to speak. However, this phenomenological research intends to understanding the meaning attached to behavior and not to quantify how often an event or activity happens at a particular fraternity house. I do not compare one fraternity house with another but, instead, create a composite picture of fraternity male bonding by examining a variety of situations, conflicts, and rituals.
My sample group, although it is small, is compatible with ethnographic principles. According to Harvey Russell Bernard (1988), “…there is no need for scientific sampling in phenomenological research, in which the object is to understand the meaning of expressive behavior, or simply to understand how things work’ (80). Furthermore, it is not necessary for each fraternity to share the same ritual in order to observe broad pattern of a culture could be understood by identifying recurrent themes (198).
The second limitations is that it proved difficult to design questions that allowed fraternity members to openly discuss topics that might incriminate them. IT is not uncommon to hear criticism about fraternity over their rituals, treatment of minorities, and style of male bonding. Fraternity members might be prone to suspect that my own research would also be used against them. Moreover, many fraternity rituals are held sacred and some participants might not want to compromise important secrets.
These limitations necessitated that I conduct research in the ethnographic style which was evolving, recursive, and inter-active with participants. The way I established which questions to ask was by making several different hypothesis and later revising and retesting them as needed. A drawback to this method is that I did not focus enough on a single type of conflict or ritual thus this project expanded to a point which was difficult to manage at times. Nevertheless, fraternity members proved to have a variety of inter-male conflicts, themes, and bonding rituals which prove beneficial to address.
Ultimately, each theme in Chapter Five was acquired through an on-going series of responses and feedback by participants, thus making it possible to construct an outline of the relationship between male bonding rituals and inter0male conflict. I make no claims that all fraternities are equally portrayed and represented in this thesis. There are also many differences between fraternity houses that my research does not completely acknowledge and not all participants were able to respond to each other’s comments. Nevertheless, my interpretation of the results was made possible only because my research design first encouraged fraternity members to have dialogue.
Finally, my Women Studies academic background potentially inhibited fraternity members from openly discussing fraternity-related topics and issues with me. The fact that I am male is also of concern to whose wondering how my gender shapes my view of male bonding. Therefore, I include the following two sections to explain my standpoint as a researcher.
The relationship between fraternity members and campus feminists is not usually constructive. Therefore, due to my academic major, I could have been viewed as an antagonist by participants. For some fraternity members my academic status alone would prove a research bias. Yet, I could also be accused of bias since I am a man writing a thesis about male bonding. My personal biases and allegiances were subject to question from both sides. Despite my desire to be objective, my research position, at times, often fluctuated from one position to another depending on the context and situation. I cannot escape these facts. However, I can make my personal standpoint as explicit as possible. Therefore, for the sake of self-reflexivity, I close this chapter with two sections that explain my position on both feminism and fraternities.