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1 An Introduction to Ethnography Ethnography is the descriptive study of a particular human society or the process of making such a study.

Based almost entirely on fieldwork,

ethnography requires the immersion of the ethnographer in the culture and everyday life of the people who are the subject of the study (Britannica.com). Ethnography typically involves the study of a small group of subjects in their own environment and attempts to gain a detailed understanding of the circumstances of the few subjects being studied. Ethnographic accounts are both descriptive and interpretive: descriptive because detail is critical and

interpretive because the ethnographer must determine the significance of observations without gathering broad, statistical information. Clifford Geertz

coined the term thick description to convey the methodology of the ethnographer (What is Culture?). To conduct their research, ethnographers, also called fieldworkers, often live among the people they are studying, or at least spend a considerable amount of time with them. While in the field, ethnographers engage in

participant-observation which means that they participate as much as possible in local daily life, while also making careful observations. An ethnographer might partake in important ceremonies and rituals of a culture or might share in ordinary activities such as meal preparation and consumption. This technique is intended to provide an emic perspective or natives point of view, without imposing the observers conceptual framework. The emic viewpoint, which may differ from the etic or outsiders perspective on daily life, is a unique and critical

2 component of ethnographic research. In addition, ethnographers use a

technique known as triangulation to identify multiple data sources, such as fieldnotes, interviews, and site documents, which work together to support their research claims (What is Ethnography?). Ethnography is a qualitative research method and product and may be distinguished from three other methods of investigating and writing: quantitative research, public policy research, and journalism. Quantitative research usually involves a larger number of cases in less depth, measuring frequency or using statistics. Public policy research generally provides information that may be used by policy makers to decide how specific behaviors might be understood in terms of social outcomes. Journalism attempts to provide objective outsider news

information in a timely manner for a designated target audience (What is Ethnography?). As a qualitative research method, ethnography offers several advantages. First, ethnographies can account for the complexity of group behaviors, reveal interrelationships among multifaceted dimensions of group interactions, and provide context for behaviors. In addition, ethnographies can reveal qualities of group experience in a way that other research methods cannot. They can help determine future questions and types of follow-up research. By expanding the range of knowledge and understanding of the world, researchers often are able to understand why behaviors occur, rather than just noting the occurrence. For example, a quantitative study may find that students who are taught composition using a process method receive higher grades on papers than students taught

3 using a product method. However, a qualitative study might reveal why many composition instructors continue to use the product method even though they are aware of the benefits of the process method (Qualitative Observational Research, 2003). Ethnographic research has several disadvantages to consider as well. Ethnography is time consuming and requires a well-trained researcher. It takes time to build trust with informants in order to facilitate full and honest discourse. Short-term studies are at a particular disadvantage in this regard. Bias on the part of the researcher can affect both the design of the study and the collection and interpretation of data. Too little data may lead to false assumptions about behavior patterns, while large quantities of data may not be processed effectively (Qualitative Observational Research, 2003). One of the primary tools of ethnographic study is the use of fieldnotes. Some observers begin with a blank notebook and write down everything that takes place. Others may use audio or video tapes. Still others begin with a list of behavior categories to note. Fieldnotes should be written as soon as possible after leaving the fieldsite to minimize the possibility of forgetting important details. Fieldnotes should include the following information: date, time and place of

observation; specific facts and details of site activities; sensory impressions such as sights, sounds, textures, smells, tastes; specific words, phrases, summaries of conversations and insider language; questions about people or behaviors for future investigations; and page numbers to help keep observations in order (Chiseri-Strater, 1997, p. 73).

4 While methods of writing fieldnotes can be very personal, they generally are divided into four components, which should be kept distinct from one another in some way. Jottings are the brief words or phrases written down while at the fieldsite. Usually recorded in a small notebook, jottings are intended to serve as reminders for more complete notes to be written later. A description of the event a meal, a ritual, a meetingincluding specific details as well as general information is an integral part of the fieldnotes. An analysis of the observation may help to identify themes, questions for subsequent visits, and preliminary connections. Finally, a reflection on the research from a personal point of view should be included. Personal reflections, while important, should be clearly

separate from description and analysis (What is Ethnography?). Interviews can be very valuable in fulfilling the main goal of ethnography: gaining an insiders perspective. While participant-observation yields information about behavior in action, interviews provide an opportunity to learn how people reflect directly on behavior, circumstances, identity, and events. Since an

important part of the interview is establishing rapport with the informant, good listening skills are essential. To facilitate truthful responses, the interview should be informal or conversational in nature and employ open-ended questions. If possible, obtain permission from the informant to tape the interview (What is Ethnography?). Researchers may also utilize site documents such as newsletters, course materials, and student samples, as well as artifacts, to provide background and supplemental data (Qualitative Observational Research, 2003). An

5 ethnographer studying how third graders learn science in a classroom setting might want to collect the state-mandated science curriculum requirements and examples of student work. Teacher lesson plans and grade level textbooks

might also be useful (What is Ethnography?). Since ethnographic research requires observation and interaction of real human beings, certain ethical issues merit consideration. Do participants have full knowledge of what is involved? Can the study hurt participants? Is the researcher being truthful in presenting data? Will the study intrude too much into group behaviors? (Qualitative Observational Research, 2003). Traditionally, ethnography has been a research method used by anthropologists and sociologists. An Urban Ethnography of Latino Street Gangs in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties is one example of this application. However, the ability to deliver deep insights into the contexts of ordinary life has led to a more widespread application within the commercial world. Ethnography can offer insights into consumer practices, language, myths, and aspirations. Historically associated with generating cross-cultural understanding, ethnography makes it possible to design and develop products and services that fit into peoples lives (Ethnography An ABC). Sachs Insights is one of a growing number of firms that specialize in ethnographic studies to aid market research and product development. In their study titled Seeing Digital: How Gen Y Teenagers Use the Web , they write: To understand the innovative ways in which Gen Y teens use the Internet, and how it affects their relationships with brands, we spoke with high school and college students who are avid fans of the Internet and other digital devices like MP3 players,

6 PDAs, digital cameras and video game consoles. We spoke with them from mission controltheir bedroomsand had a first hand look at the lives of these digital whiz kids. We went shopping with them online, and checked out how the many devices in their bedroom all work together to create a sense of self. The resulting in-depth portrait of how these digital whiz kids communicate, entertain, and create their self-identity revealed new opportunities for brands to thrive in this market (Ethnography, 2002). In summary, the term ethnography may be loosely applied to any qualitative research project where the desired outcome is a thick description. The ethnographer goes beyond reporting facts and attempts to generate an understanding of culture. Ethnographers utilize the participant-observation

method, recording fieldnotes, conducting interviews, and collecting additional data to supplement their research. While traditional ethnographic studies have focused on anthropology and sociology, this research method has been applied to market research and development as well.

7 References An urban ethnography of Latino street gangs . (n.d.). Retrieved February 2, 2003 from www.csun.edu/~hcchs006/gang.html Chiseri-Strater, Elizabeth & Sunstein, Bonnie. (1997). FieldWorking: Reading and writing research. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Blair Press. Ethnographic Research. (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2003, from http://www2.chass.ncsu.edu/garson/pa765/ethno.htm Ethnography. (2002). Sachs insights services. Retrieved February 3, 2003, from http://www.sachsnet.com/services/ethnography.html Ethnography an ABC. (n.d.). Ideas bazaar. Retrieved February 2, 2003, from http://www.ideasbazaar.co.uk/abc.htm What is culture? (n.d.). Learning commons. Retrieved February 9, 2003, from http://www.wsu.edu:8001/vcwsu/commons/topics/culture/glossary/ethnogr aphy.html What is ethnography? (n.d.). Public interest anthropology at Penn. Retrieved February 9, 2003, from http://www.sas.upenn.edu/anthro/CPIA/methods.html Steps and methods used in qualitative observational research. (2003). In Writing@CSU: Writing Guide. Retrieved February 9, 2003, from http://writing.colostate.edu/references/research/observe/pop4a.cfm