Ethnography and Observation
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The area that was chosen for the fieldwork was Boston’s North End. The North End is the city’s oldest residential community; ever since Boston was first established in the 1630s there have been people living in the area. The area is quite small, but despite of this it is filled with many restaurants, cafes, and other eating establishments (in excess of 100). The population is relatively diverse; for the most part, residents are Italian-Americans and because of this, North End is usually called Boston’s “Little Italy”.
Given that the majority of residents are Italian-Americans I chose to carry out my fieldwork in one of the community’s most recognized Italian pizzerias (as I also love pizza): Ernesto’s Pizzeria. The pizzeria is somewhat small, but since it has opened its doors for the first time to the public in 1984 in 69 Salem Street, it has distinguished itself as being a gourmet pizza establishment. Ernesto’s is a place where anyone can go for a casual meal in a cozy, private environment filled with history. As well, given that it is a pizzeria with high tourist affluence, there is always the possibility of ordering pizza to go without having to wait for long, as there is always fresh pizza available for immediate purchase and consumption. Finally, I think that it is important to point out that the pizzeria is open from 11 am to 9 pm (Sundays through Thursdays); on Fridays and Saturdays it is open from 11 am to 11 pm.
Upon initial observation it becomes quite clear that Ernesto’s Pizzeria accurately illustrates the major characteristics of both industrialism and the information age. First of all, it is a pizzeria that works ten and twelve hour shifts in the production of pizza and other types of food products in order to satisfy customer demand. Second, the goods are transacted through commercial operations in which consumers pay a fixed amount in currency and they get the desired food product in return. Being a food establishment, Ernesto’s operates in the services sector of the economy; the North End is filled with establishments of a similar nature, which naturally translates into a concentration of employment in that particular sector. Also, it can be seen that the business is a part of the formal services sector; it is a legally established business that pays taxes and abides the city’s laws.
It is important to go into some depth in discussing the formal sector, as well as the informal sector; the fieldwork conducted helped in making a clear differentiation between the two. This being said, based on conducted interviews and observations, it was possible to determine that the formal sector (which includes businesses such as Ernesto’s Pizzeria) is comprised of legally established and regulated business features that inspire trust and maximum satisfaction in consumers. These features are characterized by offering a high quality environment, sanitary conditions, formal billing receipts, and established and registered trademark, among other things. The informal sector, on the other hand, is characterized by having none of the above. For consumers it is generally considered that businesses with no registered trademarks, with no formal receipts, with no conformity to minimum sanitary conditions, and with no acquiescence to minimum labor conditions are informal in nature.
It is also important to note that the observations conducted clearly indicate the presence of consumerism as a primal form of consumption in the North End and naturally in Ernesto’s Pizzeria. First of all, the fact that North End is filled with more than one hundred food establishments indicates that there is a clear desire to satisfy the people’s infinitely increasing demands (as they apply to food tastes, of course), meaning that there is indirect socialization (which stimulates individuals in the area). This occurs because “when sidewalks are used for socializing and play and commerce, the users of that street are transformed by the resulting stimulation”. As well, the area reflects the consumerism that characterizes the American culture and society. It was observed that Ernesto’s Pizzeria also foments consumerism and also attempts to service it. A total of 24 different varieties of pizza were found in the pizzeria; this clearly indicates that people’s tastes regarding pizza are fundamentally diverse and that Ernesto’s is interested in servicing all of them (and capitalizing from all of them as well).
In terms of discussing the aspects of micro-culture that were observed in North End (specifically in Ernesto’s) it was found that there are micro-cultures in terms of both class and race/ethnicity. First of all, it was observed that the vast majority of residents were young professionals and college students. Second, it was observed that most of people in the community were whites and that among whites the majority were Italian-Americans. This is consistent with the claim that eventually, the United States will produce “a culture that’s more likely than any before to treat its inhabitants as individuals, rather than members of a caste or identity group”.
Finally, in discussing the mode of exchange that was observed it became clear from the very beginning that the principal mode of exchange in North End, including Ernesto’s Pizzeria, was unbalanced. This, however, came as no surprise given that the United States is fundamentally a capitalist market society in which market exchange is subjected to the forces of supply and demand (which ultimately determines the relative prices of goods and services being sold in the economy). As well, it is worth noting that it was possible to observe different types of food establishments, both in terms of size and formality (there were some formal establishments, such as Ernesto’s, but there were also some informal establishments).
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