Class Split of Bilbao & its Impact on the Regional Identity

When completing our initial research before the trip to Bilbao I mainly focused on the socio-economic split of the city. From this research that was carried out it seemed to suggest that the city of Bilbao was clearly split by the river, with working class on the left side due to the industries that were present. The right side of the river is where the city centre is located and is also where the majority of upper and middle class housing is situated.

From our trip to Bilbao my perspective is that this research did not always seem the case. In this photograph the housing on the left of the river does not look typically like working class accommodation. However, there were occasions when walking through parts of the city that are situated on the left side of the river where the housing did appear to conform to this idea of the socio-economic split of the city.

This photograph shows housing that I would say is more typically seen as working class accommodation. This is because compared to the housing seen in other areas of Bilbao that we visited, such as the areas that are classed as middle class according to Plöger’s city report on Bilbao, they generally are fairly similar to housing that is seen in the UK. The signifiers in this photograph that give the impression of a working class property are the tall blocks of flats, the quite dirty appearance of the bricks and the shutters that are on all of the windows.

Conversi argues that the diminishing Basque culture was directly affected by the growing industrialisation of the area. “Throughout the industrial areas of Euskadi (the Basque Country), traditional culture was mostly erased by modernity in the form of urbanization, industrialization, and occupational de-skilling. The rise of a rich bourgeois class was accompanied by the destitution of previously rural labourers, small holders and lesser industrialists, and by the growth of a newly dispossessed urban proletariat.” Conversi also states that this development lead to the notion of Basque nationalism as it was the areas that were most affected by industrialisation that Basque nationalism was most prominent. However, this theory on Basque nationalism is in relation to the industrialisation that occurred pre-Franco era. Having said that, during the reign on General Franco Basque nationalism altered from being a response to the growing urbanisation of the region to being a struggle to uphold the traditions of the Basque people at all. “nationalism was no longer a response to industrialization. Now it was a matter of the very survival of the Basque nation. While most Basques had to deal with a ferocious dictatorship which did not hesitate to use torture in order to extort confessions from militants, Basque culture appeared to be under a final threat.” (Conversi, 2012).

From this idea that the growing industrialisation and urbanisation in the Basque region contributed to the nationalism of the Basque people at the time before General Franco era, it could be applied to more recent waves of globalisation and how that has affected the Basque’s regional identity. It would be difficult to give a completely accurate view on how it is affected due to the relatively small amount of Bilbao that we visited, and even smaller amount of the Basque region. However, before visiting we all had the preconception that the main language spoken was going to be Basque, but instead the majority of people we met spoke Spanish. In a city that has a growing tourism industry this could be a factor as to why the Basque language was being overtaken by Spanish. It is interesting to see the conflicting components of the Basque national identity, where the language is rarely used but should be more prominent as part of the Basque culture compared to the Athletic Bilbao football that only signs players from the region, and is very obviously an important factor of their city and a club that every local resident is fiercely proud of.


Conversi, Daniele  (2012)

Plöger, Jörg (2012)


V for Ethnography

While I have put forward that we utilised a micro-ethnographic approach which is true to certain extent (albeit we were unaware at the time) we also went further and engaged with a sub section of ethnography which has seen a recent growth in acceptance; this being forms of Visual Ethnography.

Once popular in sociological research in the early 20th century began slowly tapered away and yet has seen a revival at the start of the 21st century. Visual ethnography is often used as a form of photo-elicitation where in participants are showed images in an attempt to elicit a response to be recorded or help “spring board” discussions. “By working with informants to produce images that are meaningful for them we can gain insights … into what is important for them as individuals living in particular localities” (Bryman 2012:457). While it was considered it use such a method of interviewing it was ultimately decided against; given the language barrier and the possibility of collecting a size of usable interviews.

What we did decide to use was photographic evidence to accompany Ethnographic field notes; the use of visual ethnography in this regard was most applicable. Incorporating images to support the observations and suggested hypothesis was put to great effect when reviewing our field notes retrospectively this has been referred to as an aide-mémoire. Practically all of the images where dated and were accompanied by a brief description allowing for a relatively accurate placement of the image within the field notes in relation to context, time and location.

Furthermore given high quality of the images and sheer volume collected by the photographer and the field research team along with accompanying audio recordings; it is possible that while still accompanying our noted observations they also become part of our analyses beyond their current supporting role. Peñaloza suggests that her “visual ethnographic study of Nike town in Chicago” (Bryman 2012:460) was well suited to using a similar use of photography with a specific reference to key aspects of project, “particularly its architecture, furnishings, displays of artifacts, images , sounds and textures in relation to consumers’ behaviours” (Bryman 2012:460). While our project does not directly concern it’s self with corporation to consumer power relations the areas of interests are similar given our approach to exploring the habitus and hexis of a different culture.

While this further supports our ethnographic work thus far it should be noted that visual ethnography traditional was used from a realist’s approach where the image “becomes a ‘fact’ for the ethnographer … and acts as a window on reality” (Bryman 2012:458). Our adopted reflective approach is close linked with our social-constructivism stance “the visual is frequently collaborative [and more importantly] there is a recognition of the fluidity of meanings of images, implying they can never be fixed and will always be viewed by different people in different ways” (Bryman 2012:458). Our project rejects any realist stand point suggesting that there are any tangible truths and in fact work under the presumed understanding “that reality is a ‘fragile social construction subject to lines of sight and interpretation’” (Bryman 2012:263). We are currently analysing our visual-ethnography within the context of our observational data simultaneously attempting to draw conclusion and remain aware that these ‘conclusions’ may be true with given context. This approach could be considered part “Post-structural Tale” (Bryman 2012:463) by Van Maanen and part “Postmodern Ethnography” (Bryman 2012:464) by Adler and Adler: first by our stated ontological and epistemological stances, it will also always be hard when conducting micro-ethnography not to personalise your work given the scale of the project, this is always intended as a preliminary project designed to reflex and improve upon what has been done and finally the attachments to this project are largely reflective in nature (Bryman 2012:455-465).

What should be raised are the ethical implications of using visual data containing images of individuals without their consent. The possibility of photographing individuals clear enough to be recognisable was possibility, this was raised in the Low Risk Ethical Check List and in this ethical analysis of this check list, which can be found on the blog.

The project was given the go ahead due to the fact that to obtain the required permission we have to break our covert observation as ‘Tourists’; then communication could be difficult at best, furthermore it could negatively affect our surroundings proving false visual data, ultimately a logistical nightmare. Our redeeming steps however to limit any possible damage (if any) encounter by an invasion of privacy were that the proposed risk was no more prevalent if this were to be carried out around our University campus allowing for the green light on this project. Finally as stated in a slight different manner for a slightly different ethical concern, we are constantly putting our work and subsequent ‘conclusions’ within context and as suggestions no matter whether they are favourable or not.

With this in mind efforts to continue to minimise risk are still on going.



Beach, D. (1996) The Responsible Conduct of Research. Cambridge: VCH

Bryman, A. (2012) Social Research Methods. 4nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Bryman, A. (2004) Social Research Methods. 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press

During, S. (ed.) (2007) The Cultural Studies Reader. 3rd edn. Oxon: Routledge

Priest, H. S. (1996) Doing Media Research: An Introduction. London: Sage Publications

“some dissimulation is intrinsic to social life and, therefore to field work” – Ethical Ethnography

Anthropology and ethnography have always had to deal with ethical constraints just like any other research method in practice and just like any other method, ethical considerations have had to evolve with the emerging possibilities technology can offer. Originally “anthropologists’ descriptions were often of isolated groups with no written language and no access to today’s mass media” (Priest 1996:28) considering our selected culture of study, the capabilities of technology and the average user, this is not a luxury we have.

Our blog and accompanying forms of social network dissemination while remain constantly professional are most certainly public; meaning that it is possible that an individual or institution relating to our project which may be a part of our project (i.e. distinguishable through a description of appearance, personality and/or actions). Given that we adopted a covert-participant role it is possible these individual(s) or institutions may recognise themselves as part of our study may not appreciate our stance, opinions, conclusions, extrapolation or generalisations of their culture nor the part we suggest they have played a part in its construction or purpose.

Furthermore individual(s) or institutions which have not been considered may feel implicated in our conclusions this neglection as well as the previous scenario and similar variations can result in undesired media attention and/or legal action. Of course these are extremely pessimistic outcomes: given the scale and predicted reach of our project, this being actively engaging colleagues and professional peers within relevant field meaning that any possible damage would be minimal if any.

Low Risk Ethical Checklist Questions 15 and 16

Of course further steps can and have been taken to ensure that the benefits exceed any possible risk. The first step was to conducted a Low Risk Research Ethics Approval Check to ensure that “The benefit expected must exceed the expected harms” (Beach 1996:19) and that steps would be put in place to see it through. Also referring back to a point already made, our work is monitored (constantly in fact) by our colleagues and professional peers. This adds another layer to the iterative nature of the project (discussed in a previous posting), which allows for constant reflection and constructive criticism. One could argue that to a certain degree this project “self checks” through the transparent nature of the documentation process.

While the iterative process, open source documentation of our research, peer review and its status as a micro-ethnographic study well aware of its reach and limitations all go along way at every stage in minimising any potential harm. This in accordance with any officially recognised intuitions monitoring ethical research, “social research should try to minimize disturbance both to subjects themselves and to the subjects’ relationships with their environment” (Bryman 2004:510). Sadly ethics in ethnography is a tricky dance between contradicting stances and practices, while a dance may be an apt metaphor; a minefield wouldn’t be far off either.

Bryman states that there are four areas by which ethical principles can be broken down to “[1] whether there is harm to participants [2] whether there is a lack of informed consent [3] whether there is an invasion of privacy [4] whether deception is involved” (Bryman 2004:509).  This project entailed a certain amount of covert participant observation. However such a method is in contrast with the principle of informed consent because “research participants should be given as much information as might be needed to make an informed decision” (Bryman 2004:511), covert participant observation “transgresses that principle … [participants] are involved whether they like it or not” (Bryman 2004:511).

Low Risk Ethical Checklist Questions 24 and 31

This principle in particular is often considered impractical within an ethnographic study; this was certainly true of our field research. To inform every individual we observed and gain the informed consent necessary to satisfy a Universalism approach would be near to impossible whether attempted on or not. Our methods of data collection where this: Visual documentation via digital photography and observation notes, audio recorded of ambient sound, informal semi-structured interviews (fully informed consent given) recorded in an audio/visual medium. In the case of the interviews as mentioned, fully informed consent was given solving any possible problems regarding possible harm, lack of informed consent, invasion of privacy or deception.

The main problems came from the covert observations wherein we were “disguised” as tourists (an easy disguise) of course this was partly true, what differentiated our research team from that of a tourist was our approach and to what ends our data would be used. The photography and audio recordings of street crowd sounds, Bilbao fans in the bar and outside the stadium before and after the Athletic Club Vs. Espanyol game were never directed towards any individual; While not impossible for an individual or group (besides that of Athletic Club fans as a group) to identify themselves or others, this is a possible outcome but could be considered statistically safe given the reach of the project.

In legal terms any forms of copy righted material which may or may not have been used will fall under the Fair use and Academic Fair Use sections of Copyright law; furthermore all of the previously mention work has been appropriately referenced and in accordance Coventry Universities policies.

What has been stated above regarding deception, invasion of privacy, potential harm and informed consent (or lack thereof?) presents ethical, moral and legal issues which will always be present when conducting any form of ethnographic research information in one form or another and are almost unavoidable. Information is always held back from participants in varying degrees to avoid contamination of data, because it is deemed necessary, because there is no other way ect . Our ethical stance could be considered situational in our approach, we propose that “The end justifies the means … unless there is some breaking of ethical rules we would never know about certain social phenomena” this would suggest that in a given situations this could “argue that deception was justified”. As mentioned nearly all “research involves elements that are at least ethically questionable” in our case this came from our covert participant observations by not stating we were anything more than tourists. This information was deliberately held back to avoid instance where the unknowing participants may “try to hide actions and attitudes they consider undesirable, and so will be dishonest” (Bryman 2012:130 -135).

So while it appears no one wishes to say that deception, lack of informed consent, possible harm to participants or invasion privacy are ethically sound it is heavily hinted at by many researchers and within in the context of this project we feel the ends do justify means. The projects scope, limitations and crucially our understanding of its limitations are ultimately its saving grace. The benefits outweigh the risks because the project while far from being unimportant is small, its reach is limited this is based on number of blog/Facebook views and comments as well as the predicted number of those who will see the finished project. Any conclusions/ generalisation or in the case of an inductive/iterative preliminary study a proposed hypothesis will be kept within the context and bounds of the research. Within this project we have subsumed the potential benefits of a much larger project and drastically limited risk to both participant and researcher.

Low Risk Ethical Checklist Questions 26 and 27

Of course other issues raised in our Low Risk Ethical Checklist have much simpler solutions, in fact some come back to correct professional practice something which we have been improving for 3 years as well as again by devising appropriate methods “Research should be designed, reviewed and undertaken to ensure integrity, quality and transparency” (Bryman 2012:144). The issues is remedied by our actively engaging colleagues, scholarly professional in the field of research methods and peer review constantly confirming our methods.

What is clear this analysis of ethical research is that there is a healthy dose of irony, that one “must be dishonest to get honest data” (Bryman 2012:134)



Beach, D. (1996) The Responsible Conduct of Research. Cambridge: VCH

Bertrand, I. and Hughes, P. (2005) Media Research Methods: Audiences, Insitutions, Texts. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillsn

Bryman, A. (2012) Social Research Methods. 4nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Bryman, A. (2004) Social Research Methods. 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Coppyright Witness Ltd. (2011)
Copyright Law Fact Sheet P-09 : Understanding Fair use
[online] available from <> [10/19 2011]

During, S. (ed.) (2007) The Cultural Studies Reader. 3rd edn. Oxon: Routledge

Huff, S. A. (2009) Designing Research for Publication. London: SAGE Publications

Priest, H. S. (1996) Doing Media Research: An Introduction. London: Sage Publications

A Brief Account: Like We Needed to Get Lost for Nth Time

The last day we conducted our “official derive” which was brilliant because if we got lost that was point so well done us when we did get lost. Starting from old town at the end of the derive were some where way north (we think).

Our derive and where we thought we were

Ultimately I have only a have a rough idea of the path we took to these 3 different destinations and given the length of the journey it is possible we walked all of Bilbao going from place to place. What we did see was an up and down see saw effect from what looked like run down areas to well maintained communities although in the south there were numerous abandoned industrial buildings which had fallen into disrepair interestingly these were located next a handful of educational inst

Disrepair Building on corner

We followed 10 directions per person – 50 in total. These directions varied from “straight for 5 minutes” and “next left then right” to “follow the direction of the wind for 2 minutes” or  “walk until you see a dog or Athletic Club flag” of course these did get us good and lost as the map can attest to.

Of course we made it back safe and to be expect wet and cold.

The last “day”

We then left the hotel in the early hours of the morning got a plane or two and relaxed; this journey can be summed below.

The way home was long.


A Brief Account: Guggenheim Day

The 3rd day will forever be known as “Guggenheim day” or “let’s get lost in the not so nice looking neighbourhood (based on our false preconceptions of European slums and our middle class up bringing) and all have the same concerns for wellbeing but not voice them till we get back to the hotel Day” so let’s go with “Guggenheim Day”. This time we didn’t get lost on our journey to the Guggenheim, walking along the eastside of the river we got some really good views of city and I came of this bit of internet trivia which made me smile knowing that pointless internet “inside jokes” do truly translate.


There were more instances of their use of recreational space such as parks being based on concrete and steel instead of “natural” grass areas as well interesting where builds appear to have just been removed like a city of Lego bricks awaiting another building to be clip into place.

Lego Buildings

As for Guggenheim, it was uniquely pleasing aesthetically from the outside and the same can be said for the architecture on the inside. I am aware that Jason has covered the art contain within the Guggenheim to a great extent, however I would like to briefly touch upon the lack of Basque art displayed there. Of course the Guggenheim is an international gallery and has set exhibitions from all over the world; however it boasts a selection of local Basque artists and on our visit only one piece could be found.

Edward Chilida – Embrace XI – Steel
(San Sebastian 1924 – 2002).

On our way back we crossed La Salve Bridge to walk back along the west side of the river back to the hotel working of a basic (which looking back know was probably a tourist map) I got us lost and accidentally took us back through an interesting area to the north Bilbao. Housing on the hills look like it could be quite expensive and just over the road were again more giant accommodation tower blocks.

Nice looking houses

Flat Tower Block

So yea we got lost again, and it was also very wet again.



Urban Dictionary (2012) Urban Dictionary: Trololo [online] available from <> [3/25 2012]

A Brief Account: Athletic vs. Espanyol

On the second day we set off to explore the city centre and did a quick scout around the stadium as this was match day Athletic Club vs. Espanyol. We spent a lot of time walking around the city centre taking note of the how the city had been physically built. Giant accommodation tower blocks sitting on top of shops all tightly packed close together with very little space (if any) between one block to the next. Must had a small alcove either for pedestrian or car access often they had a relatively small sculpture/ piece of art placed at the centre and for the most part they were surrounded by graffiti.

Entrance and Graffiti

Statue with Graffiti

Don’t listen to what anyone else tells you, on our way to the Athletic Club Stadium “La Catedral” we got lost loads and I mean loads, far too many to count. Getting lost is something we did most of all to be honest, this may have been down to my terrible map and sense of direction but what it provided was basically an unintentional derive a day.

The Stadium is modest, with ticket booths, a rear entrance for players and a small official gift shop all other space is dedicated to the game and the fans. We had found many small but long bars proudly flying the Athletic Club and Basque flags and we watch the game from one close to the stadium. Close enough that if you were to stick your head outside bar for moment you could hear the cheers from the stadium.

Athletic Club

Personally while I couldn’t understand what the supporters in the bar were saying, moaning or in some cases yelling at the television it appear that the crowd in the bar shared many characteristics with any other bar in England when the football game is on. However there were far more children and families together watching in the bar late at night than expected. No matter what the passion was certainly felt. The last thing of note in this bar was “ETA” scratched/burned/graffiti into the bathroom ceiling.

"E.T.A." in the bathroom of a bar in Bilbao

What was brilliant to see was not only that there were Athletic Club and Basque flags everywhere which has already been mentioned (not a single other football club flag to be seen) but also getting swept up in the crowd on the way to the game surrounded by scarf’s, flags being worn proudly and Athletic Club jerseys.

Athletic Club and Basque Flags

Athletic Club Supporters

The game finished 3-3 which is why we would imagine the fans on the way out of the stadium were demonstrating the stereotypical passionate exuberance of Spanish football fandom.

Oh and we got lost on the way back to the hotel again, it was also very wet.



IMScouting (2012) Athletic Club Vs. Espanyol [online] available from <> [3/25 2012]

A Brief Account: When We Landed

While my account of Bilbao may be similar to the others who also conducted our field research and it was over a month ago, but here is a brief account of my (and the groups) short time in Bilbao, Spain. This brief account has been sourced and elaborated on from hand written notes by myself and my clearly impeccable memory.

The first day was terrifying (personally), my Basque was bad and my Spanish no better. We found our hotel and did all that stuff that you don’t need to know about. What was of note however was the taxi ride was over to Old Town from the airport, there was an extensive amount of graffiti on the bridges leading towards the city centre while most of them looked like individual artists “tags” as mentioned in another post there was also a lot of Anarchy symbols on the route in and across the city in fact. Of course after visiting the southern areas of Spain it could be suggested that this is not linked to any form of Basque freedom but a simple and popular symbol to graffiti. Of course there were some definitely interesting pictures to be taken on the out skirts of the city limits.

Graffiti on the way to Old Town