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How did ethnographic research

Ethnography has been shaped by cultural anthropology

with an emphasis on writing about culture

1928 Mead study of childbearing, adolescence, and
influence of culture on personality in Samoa
1920s - 1950s Single case emphasis at University of

Research: JUW

How did ethnographic research


1980s Educational Ethnographies

1997 publication of Writing Culture that highlighted
two major issues
crisis of representation:

how ethnographers interpret the groups they

are studying
crisis of legitimacy: standards do not come from normal science.
Studies must be evaluated by standards within the participants
historical, cultural, influences and interactive forces of race, gender
and class
Research: JUW

Ethnography Explained
"Ethnography is the art and science of describing a group or

culture. The description may be of a small tribal group in an

exotic land or a classroom in middle-class suburbia." --David
M. Fetterman, 1998.

Ethnography came from the Greek

ethnos= folk/people and

graphein= writing. It identifies its roots in sociology and

Ethnography Explained

is a social science research method. It relies

heavily on up-close, personal experience and possible
participation, not just observation, by researchers trained in
the art of ethnography. It involves a commitment to get close
to the subject being observed in its natural setting, to be
factual and descriptive in reporting what is observed, and to
find out the points of view of participants in the domain

Ethnography Explained
Culture is the set of shared attitudes, values, concepts,

beliefs, and practices that can be attributed to the members

of the group being studied
Three broad areas to help focus on tangible cultural behaviors

Cultural orientation where the people are situated

Cultural know-how how a group goes about daily activities
Cultural beliefs why a group does what it does

Ethnography As A Method
(a) People's behavior is studied in everyday contexts, rather than
under experimental conditions created by the researcher.

(b) Data are gathered from a range of sources, but observation and/or
relatively informal conversations are usually the main ones.

(c) The approach to data collection is "unstructured in the sense that

it does not involve following through a detailed plan set up at the

beginning; nor are the categories used for interpreting what people say
and do pre-given or fixed. This does not mean that the research is
unsystematic; simply that initially the data are collected in as raw a
form, and on as wide a front, as feasible.

Ethnography As A Method
(d) The focus is usually a single setting or group, of relatively
small scale. In life history research the focus may even be a
single individual.

(e) The analysis of the data involves interpretation of the

meanings and functions of human actions and mainly takes

the form of verbal descriptions and explanations, with
quantification and statistical analysis playing a subordinate
role at most.

Point to Ponder

Unlike experimental research that rely on tests and

questionnaires, ethnographic researchers rely on themselves.

They are the major instruments of data collection since they
collect their data through fieldwork (watching/observing and

This is the view that the aim of social research is to capture
the character of naturally occurring human behavior, and that
this can only be achieved by first-hand contact with it, not by
inferences from what people do in artificial settings like
experiments or from what they say in interviews about what
they do elsewhere.

From this point of view, if we are to be able to explain human
actions effectively we must gain an understanding of the
cultural perspectives on which they are based. That this is
necessary is obvious when we are studying a society that is
alien to us, since we shall find much of what we see and hear


Another feature of ethnographic thinking is a conception of
the research process as inductive or discovery-based; rather
than as being limited to the testing of explicit hypotheses.


CONTEXTUAL: The research is carried out in the context in

which the subjects normally live and work

UNOBTRUSIVE: The research avoids manipulating the

phenomena under investigation.

LONGITUDINAL: The research is relatively long.

COLLABORATIVE: The research involves the participation of

stakeholders other than the researcher.

INTERPRETATIVE: The researcher carries out interpretative
analyses of the data.
ORGANIC: There is interaction between questions/
hypotheses and data collection/ interpretation.

Types of Ethnographies
Three types:

Realist Ethnography
Case Study Ethnography
Critical Ethnography

Common types of Ethnographies:

Realist ethnography

Narrates study in the third person voice reporting what

is observed
Researcher reports objective data free from personal
bias, political goals or judgment
Researcher produces the participants views through
closely edited quotes and has final word on how the
culture is to be interpreted and presented.

Common types of Ethnographies:

Case study

Definition: an in-depth exploration of a bounded

system (time, place, physical boundaries)
Subject for case studies
individual or several individuals
series of steps that form a sequence of activities

Researcher develops understanding of the case by

collecting multiple forms of data
Researcher locates the case or cases within their
larger context

Types of qualitative case studies

Intrinsic Case Study
Study an intrinsic, unusual case.

Unusual Case

Instrumental Case Study


Study a case that provides insight into

an issue or theme

Multiple Instrumental Case Study

(also called a Collective Case Study)



Study several cases that

provide insight into an
issue (or theme)

Common types of Ethnographies:

Critical Ethnography

Used by politically minded people

Advocate for the emancipation of marginalized groups
Seek to change society
Identify and celebrate research bias: all research is value laden
Challenge status-quo and ask Why is it so?
Create literal dialogue with participants

Critical Ethnography:
Procedural Characteristics

Social issues include: power, empowerment, inequity,

dominance, repression, hegemony, victimization
Collaborate actively with participants and negotiate
final report
Self-conscious about their own interpretation
Reflexive and self-ware of their role
Uses contradictions, imponderable, and tension
(Denzin 1997)

Ethnographic Techniques
Three major techniques

Participant observation
Field notes

Ethnographic Techniques
Triangulation: Collecting data using many sources rather

than a single one

Multiple sources:


Multiple informants
Consistency across sources and informants creates a stronger
understanding of what is truly going on

Ethnographic Techniques
Participant observation: The researcher is immersed in the

research setting in order to get close to those studied as a way of

understanding what their experiences and activities mean to them
Two purposes

To observe the activities, people, and physical aspects of a situation

Active participant observer active engagement

Passive observer little, if any, engagement

To engage in activities that provide useful information in a given situation

Three varying degrees of participation

Privileged active observer engaged in a more active, privileged manner
such as teaching a lesson

Ethnographic Techniques
Recommended social behaviors

Negotiating entrance into the setting requires the researcher to be

able to clearly describe the purpose, plan, and constraints likely
associated with the research
Reciprocity requires the researcher to move between formal and
informal ways of interacting with participants
The researcher must have a tolerance for ambiguity
The researcher must have personal determination coupled with a faith
in oneself

Ethnographic Techniques
Field notes: A record of the researchers understanding of

the lives, people, and events that are the focus of the
The link between field notes and the research

What is observed is ultimately treated as data

When writing field notes researchers should give particular attention
to the indigenous meanings and concerns of the people studied
Field notes provide essential grounding for writing broader, more
coherent accounts of others lives and concerns
Field notes detail the social and interactional processes that make up
peoples everyday lives and activities

Ethnographic Techniques
Recommendations for observing and recording field notes

Make mental notes and record them as soon as possible after observing
Jot down key information

Capture key words and phrases without a lot of explanation

Use a mnemonic device to help reconstruct the observed events

Dont worry about grammar or other rules

Trace what you did during the day
Avoid the temptation to recreate dialogue
Describe as completely and accurately as you can all relevant aspects of
the observation

Ethnographic Techniques
Recommendations (continued)

Record your personal reactions (i.e., reflective field notes)

Observe and record everything you possibly can
Observe and look for nothing in particular
Look for bumps or paradoxes