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Maggie Kaszycki

February 13, 2003


Engl 3090 Pullman
Ethnography Paper

Ethnography
Ethnography is a method of studying and learning about a particular type
of person or group of people. In most cases, the group being studied is small in
size and the ethnographer travels to the subjects native environment to study
them. The details of what an ethnographer observes are crucial, because not
only can they be interpreted differently depending upon who is reading the field
notes, but also the ethnographer must decide what is important to document and
what is not. The final product that an ethnographer produces is usually tells an
in depth story about a culture of people. In that story their daily routines,
rituals, and cultural beliefs are laid out before us. Even they way they dress,
talk, and what they eat may be a relevant part of their life and thus is described
in the story. The key objective of any ethnographer is to study and record the
way of life. Exotic tribes, prisons, classrooms, the army, police stations,
industrial subcultures, and even neighborhoods are examples of the types of
cultures that ethnographers have studied in the past and/or continue to study
today.
As an ethnography you must live among the people you are studying and
become an accepted part of their culture. In some cases this is a difficult task
and in others it is simply a matter of asking. As Becker and Geer defined some

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time ago, participant observation is that method in which the observer
participates in daily life of the people under study, either openly in the role of
researcher or covertly in some disguised role (Crabtree 5). Fieldworkers or
ethnographers not only require access to relevant sites but also need acceptance
on the part of those who work in them. Protecting the identity of the people,
respecting the fact that the fieldworker is like a guest within their lives is a
much harder task that it can seem. Depending on the culture and people one is
studying depends on how fast the fieldworker is accepted into the culture. It is
much too easy for the fieldworker to get drawn into the politics of the
organization especially when dependent upon the key informant within the
organization who has their own goals and agendas to accomplish.
Ethnographers have one serious factor constantly working against them:
time. Studying ones culture and way of life is an enormous task that cannot be
accomplished in one day, one weekend, or sometimes even in one year. It is a
long and highly involved activity. A portion of ethnographers are engineers for
software companies who are constantly evaluating the marking and always up
against a small deadline; ethnography is a prolonged activity and in the
context of social research can last a number of years, certainly time scales
which would be considered a joke in software engineering (Hindmarsh 512).
Currently, there are three different types of ethnography identified
according to Andy Crabtree of TeamEthno at Lancaster University. They are:

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concurrent ethnography, quick and dirty ethnography, and evaluative
ethnography. Concurrent ethnography is the one most commonly associated
with design. It is the sequenced process in which the ethnographer investigates
and culture and design development of a particular system the culture is using.
Quick and dirty ethnography is a rationalization of the ethnographers
experiences on a particular project that did not go as intended, however
valuable information could still be used from the research and field notes. This
mainly happens with larger scale projects where is hard to obtain status in the
culture to get the insiders perspective from all angles. In evaluative
ethnography the ethnographer formulates a plan before ever setting foot onto
the research site and constantly evaluates his progress so that smooth and
quick field notes may be taken and redirected back to the appropriate people for
developmental purposes.
Like most things ethnography relies on precedence. Ethnographers
constantly feed and build off their predecessors to constantly improve the field.
Ethnography is mainly about perception. How the ethnographer perceives the
culture and what he/she perceives to be relevant to record all come across in
how the final product turns out. As humans it is in our nature to constantly ask
questions and always want to know the answers to everything. Ethnographers
go and seek out those answers.

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Works Cited
Clifford, James. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography,
Literature, and Art. New York: Harvard University Press, 1988.
Crabtree, Andy. From human practice to system requirements: sociology,
intervention, and technology design. TeamEthno PHD research projects
online, Lancaster University. (2000)
Hindmarsh, J., C. Heath. Sharing the Tools of the Trade: The Interactional
Constitution of Workplace Objects, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. 29
vols. New York: Chelsea. 2000.