I have decided to opt for an issue-based approach within a greater context based setting, and investigate some of the social and cultural aspects such as language and communication, customs, and arts of the modern airport, and how it is experienced by passengers. I am focusing on Toronto Pearson International Airport Terminal 3 and while doing this, I will somewhat be attributing my own experiences from other airports I have come through on various trips throughout my life. These trips gave me the idea and inspiration to do fieldwork at the Toronto airport while combining my experiences with my interest in travel and airports.
I am well aware that most anthropological projects focus on places that are bound in time and place; where the anthropologist has a chance to develop close ties with the people being studied. The constant flux of passengers at the airport makes this difficult because the population is being replaced every couple of hours, so that is why I have a non-participant observation method. What fascinates me is the way in which the constant change and interaction of passengers in the airport raises questions of how people’s cultural values influence their perception and experience of movement and transit, and how during air travel, time and place are both compressed and interlinked in a complicated travel network system that works on a regional, national, and global level. My fieldwork, for the most part, will consist of observing some cultural/social aspects such as language and communication (non-participant observation) and interviewing passengers and people who work in the airport terminal and secondly, just first-hand observation.
The purpose of this is to gain information and try to measure particular values/customs that inform certain behaviours of modern travelers’ perceptions of travel and experience of the airport. My research question revolves around the socio-cultural aspects of the airport; however it is split into two parts, one for my first-hand observation, and one for my interviews (participant). The main question I want to investigate in the observation process is: To what extent does language and methods of communication exemplify the ways in which families/friends of arriving passengers experience and cope with airport culture? This will be investigated in my (non-participant observation method).
For my interviews (participant observation method), I will be investigating the socio-cultural values/customs of passengers which influence their experience of mobility and travel within a smaller context of the world. From the first-hand observation, it is suitable to my research because I can gain even more open-mindedness by observing people and their methods of language and communication and writing down my observations. This aids the fact of deciphering what the social aspects of the airport are in conjunction with the cultural aspects which will be presumably revealed in the interviews I will do. These methods all pertain to the anthropological theme of Individuals, groups, and society. My process also introduces the themes of Idealist vs. Realist and Particularist vs. Universalist. In both cases, the themes imply that the subculture of passengers are guided by individual ideals (Idealist) vs. those governed by practical considerations (Realist). Also, it implies that some passengers have a particular approach; an exclusive interest in their own group (Particularism) rather than a universal interest (Universalism).
Some of the ethical issues that may arise in my research are people getting a sense that I am staring at them, yet ironically, I do not like to be stared at. So I can overcome this ethical issue by simply observing with my peripheral vision and let my eyes wander around the Terminal and look at the general setting instead of plainly staring at a particular person or group of people. However, this is unlikely to be the case since there is a constant flux of passengers at the airport at the same time and no one really has time to pay attention to one person in the entire terminal. In addition, too much subjectivity may ruin my whole fieldwork, so I will try to limit my subjectivity this time and focus more on the present situation. Then, there is always the possibility of imponderabilia where I note my first impressions of the setting to maximize potential bias. I also need to examine my assumptions carefully, hence, using interviews will help me draw closer to people and decrease the possibility of being biased for that matter. Using the non-participant (first hand) observation technique is more susceptible to biases and assumptions but now that I have chosen a specific aspect of the airport, the socio-cultural aspect of language and communication (Observation) and values/customs/experience (Interviews), it puts everything into perspective for me and enables me to observe accordingly.
My rephrased research question revolves around the same socio-cultural concept, but involves two parts. The first part is for my first-hand observation: To what extent do socio-cultural aspects, such as language and methods of communication, exemplify the ways in which families/friends and departing/arriving passengers experience travel and airports?
For my interviews (participant observation method), I will be investigating the socio-cultural values/customs of people which influence their experience and perception of mobility and travel within a smaller context of the world. So in my Stage 1 paper, I did not specify what socio-cultural aspects I wanted to investigate and so I had to specify this time what I meant which was language and methods of communication between the arriving passengers and their families/friends. In my interview, I stated in Stage 1 how I wanted to decipher how people perceive and experience movement (mobility) and transit. This question however was too psychological and not in cultural terms. Therefore, I had to rephrase it to make it more anthropological, this time I will mention certain values/customs of traveling that inform people’s behaviours in reaction to airports.
I believe that this question is appropriate for a limited research setting such as the airport because of the fact that the airport is a huge place and acts like sort of a microcosm for an entire city. The question focuses on aspects of social and cultural anthropology. Since there are many different types of people and aspects in an airport environment, values and customs differ and hence it is hard to examine all cultural aspects of people in an airport. Therefore, I need to be specific in terms of what particular aspects. The airport is limited because there is constant mobility of passengers or people in general so therefore it would be in possible to analyze different cultures in general since time and space are issues as well in the sense that there is limited time in an airport as people are there to merely transfer themselves either on or off a plane and home or to vacation. In addition, the airport undergoes changes every hour so there might be different circumstances as well and hence this makes it limited.
In addition, the feedback involved me not addressing the anthropological themes or culture/subculture I was investigating. Thus, this time in Stage 2, I will address that the subculture involves arriving passengers and their families/friends, within a greater culture of the airport itself. The major theme I will be addressing is Individuals, groups, and societies and relationships as well as Idealist (passengers are guided by individual ideals) vs. Realist (those governed by practical considerations). Also, Particularist (some passengers have a particular approach; an exclusive interest in their own group) vs. Universalist (passengers with a universal interest). Basically, this whole system involves an interaction between the subculture of passengers with their families/friends, and employees. Together, these subcultures form an airport culture which everyone accepts.
Finally, some of my questions I chose to ask people in my interview are unnecessary questions that do not pertain to my intent of this fieldwork. Questions such as: what do you do for a living? Nationality (however I will now change this to ethnicity since anyone of any ethnicity can have any type of nationality and that does not affect cultural values. Also asking people to explain what I might explain in my internal assessment such as how the airport is a microcosm of the city it is situated. Another unnecessary question is: How do people see the future of travel and airports 10 years from now. This has nothing to do with what I am trying to investigate and achieve which are the socio-cultural aspects as mentioned above. Also, there is the one involving people to list the airports they have traveled into/out of or transferred at and the type of planes, again distancing away from the purpose of this fieldwork.