This article evaluation will focus on W. E. Thompson’s (2008) “Pseudo-deviance and the ‘New Biker’ Subculture: Hogs, Blogs, Leathers, and Lattes.” The purpose of the study is to explore the ‘new biker’ culture through a lens of pseudo-deviance; additionally Thompson intends to compare and contrast the ‘new biker’ to research previously conducted on ‘outlaw bikers.’ Thompson asserts that these two groups possess more commonalities than disparities.
However, Thompson does not pose explicit research questions or hypotheses. He simply asserts the study will analyze the extent to which the newer class of biker, who is typically middle-class, redefines, expresses, and/or embraces the values of the ‘outlaw biker’ who were generally lower class and exhibited certain traits such as autonomy, excitement, fate, smartness, toughness, and trouble. The author explicitly states that the study is a descriptive study based on observations and other ethnographic data. Given that the study is descriptive and based on interviews, observations, and other ethnographic approaches, it seems safe to identify this study as qualitative. Since it is based on the subjective experiences of the ‘participants’ and not numerical quantifications, labeling this study ‘qualitative.’ Since the study is focused on comparing the lived experiences of the members of the ‘new biker’ group and the ‘outlaw biker’ group, a qualitative approach is quite appropriate.
In terms of the sampling, it is not immediately clear how the author sampled the population. It appears to be a convenience sample. Owing to the imbalance of gender and the use of a convenience sample, it is debatable that researchers will be able to generalize from the study’s findings. The sample size is not large enough or geographically diverse enough to really enable generalization. Data were obtained via observation and information acquired through ethnographic interviews. Thompson (2015) reports that an interview schedule was created and used as a general guideline, but that generally speaking the interviews were actually conducted as casual conversations though they were based on legitimate ethnographic principles. These casual conversations were accomplished through Thompson’s ability to gain entrée. Being a motorcycle rider himself, Thompson was able to informally make contact with ‘new biker’ individuals. To gain entrée with a group for study means to build the group’s trust; given his position within the subculture (i.e., being a member), he was easily able to gain entrée.
Field notes are important in ethnographic research; they serve as immediate records of the researcher’s observations and experiences. To preserve the trust he had established with the bikers Thompson did not take notes in the course of his conversations with the participants, nor did he record conversations. Thompson’s entrée in this study changes his role from a traditional observer to either participant and observer and/or covert participant. Since Thompson himself is a biker and he used that to gain entrée with the other bikers, his interviews and conversations with other bikers double as observing and participating. However, not all the participants knew they were being studied, so arguably Thompson was a covert participant as well.
When it comes to internal validity in qualitative research, the notion used is credibility – establishing trustworthiness through the assessment of data. There are several ways to do this including prolonged engagement which is what Thompson did in his study, gathering data over the course of a year. Thompson also used triangulation. Both of these methods could provide improved validity for a qualitative study. There are three methodological weaknesses in this study which could be improved. First, the sample used was not large enough to generalize results. To address this, this researcher would use a larger sample and branch out geographically. Second, Thompson relied mostly on memory for his field notes; this undermines the accuracy and credibility of his data. This researcher would find some way – perhaps through shorter conversations which were more frequent which afforded the opportunity to immediately record information following the conversations. Third, this study needed more literature review regarding the ‘outlaw biker’ phenomenon to better set the stage for the comparison and contrast aspect of this study. This could easily be remedied through careful research and more thorough background information in the introduction.