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Ethnographic Research

Edmar B. Cornejo
Ethnographic Research – (Ethnos – folk/people
graphein – writing) are qualitative research
procedures for describing, analyzing and
interpreting a culture-sharing group’s shared
patterns of behavior, beliefs and language that
develop over time.

Culture – central concept to ethnography. It is

everything having to do with human belief
Ethnographic research would be invalid unless the
•Lived for a much more extensive period of time
among the tribe and became an integrated member
of the social group.
•Learned the native language, enabling him or her to
develop the sensitivity to think, feel, and interpret
observations n terms of the tribe’s concepts, feelings,
and values while at the same time supplementing his
or her own objective judgment in interpreting
•Trained his or her informants to systematically record
field data in their own language and cultural
Steps in research cycle
1. Formulating a research problem and selecting a case.
Phases of formulating research problems
• The initial phase – Guided by broad research
interests, the investigator collects data with a view to
exploring a range of possible ideas.
• The second phase – Significant classes of events
and persons begin to emerge leading to reformulation
of initial guiding propositions.
• The third phase – The collection of data relevant to
the reformulation occurs.
2. Gaining entry – involves locating a site and identifying
a gatekeeper that will provide access to participant
Gatekeepers – individuals who could provide
formal permission to the researcher to conduct their
4. Collecting data – involve extensive data collection, using
multiple data procedures for gathering data and active
involvement of the participant in the process.
Fieldnote – researchers written account of what they
hear, see, experience and think in the course of collecting
Participant – the ones whom data are collected.
Participant Observation – long time personal
involvement with those being studied including participation
in their daily lives to the extent that the researcher comes to
understand the culture as an insider
Non Participant Observation – the observer is entirely
removed from interaction with those being observe
Interview – investigate in more detail if participant
behave the way he is observe
Popular Forms of Data Collected by Ethnographers
•Casual Conversation
•Life history, life-cycle interview
•Key informant (participant) interview
•Observations (nonparticipant to participant
•Semi structured interview
•Structured interview
•Household census, ethnography
•Questionnaire (written and/or oral)
•Projective techniques
•Content analysis of secondary text or visual material
•Focus group interview
•Elicitation techniques (e.g., looking at a scrapbook and talking
about memories)
•Audiovisual material (e.g., audio or visual record, such as camera
•Spatial mapping (e.g, recording ways data varies across units, such
as group and institution)
5. Analyzing and interpreting the data

6. Writing the ethnography

Types of Ethnographies
•Realist Ethnography – an objective, scientifically
written ethnography
•Confessional Ethnography – a report of the
ethnographer’s fieldwork experiences
•Life History – study of one individual situated within
the cultural context of his or her own life
•Autoethnography – a reflective self-examination by
an individual set within his or her cultural context.
•Microethnography – a study of focused on a specific
aspect of a cultural group and setting.
•Ethnographic case study – a case analysis of a
person, event, activity, or process set within a cultural
•Critical ethnography - a study of the shared patterns
of marginalized group with the aim of advocacy.
•Critical ethnography - a study of the shared patterns of
marginalized group with the aim of advocacy.
•Feminist ethnography – a study of women and the cultural
practices that serve to disempowered and oppress them
•Postmodern ethnography – an ethnography written to
challenge the problems in our society that have emerged
from a modern emphasis on progress and marginalizing
•Ethnographic models – a fictional work focused on cultural
aspects of group

Three major characteristics of ethnographic research

•Focus on discovering cultural patterns in human behavior.
•Focus on the emic perspective of members of the culture.
Focus on studying the natural setting in which culture is
Criticisms on the Ethnographic Method
•These methods are preliminary research models and
should be more systematized to make them more
•They require certain art, patience, sensitivity and
humility on the part of the researcher during data
•The “deeper methods” require longer time period for
data collection.
The reliability and scientificity of ethnographic data
have been questioned by non-anthropologist
Advantages of Ethnographic Research
•It provides the researcher with a much more
comprehensive perspective than do other forms of
educational research.
•Ethnographic research lends itself well to research
topics that are not easily quantified.
•It is particularly appropriate to behaviors that are
best understood by observing them within their
natural settings.
Disadvantages of Ethnographic Research
•Bias is almost impossible to eliminate.
•Generalizability is almost nonexistent.
•Replication is impossible
Suitable topics for Ethnographic Research
•Those that by very nature defy simple quantification
•Those that can be best understood in a natural setting
•Those that involve the study of individual or group activities over
•Those involving the study of the roles that educators play, and
the behaviors associated with those roles
•Those that involve the study of the activities and behavior of
group as a unit.
•Those involving the study of formal organizations in their totality
Set of General commitments or orientations to research
•The problem of understanding social action (understanding and
•The emphasis on process
•The investigation of natural setting (naturalism)
•The study of social phenomena in their context (holism)
•The assumption that there are always multiple perspectives
The use of multiple techniques, with emphasis with emphasis on
participant observation and interviewing
Summary guidelines for fieldwork
•Be descriptive in taking field notes
•Gather a variety of information from different perspectives
•Cross validate and triangulate by gathering different kinds
of data
•Capture participant’s views of their own experiences in their
own words.
•Select key informants wisely and use them carefully.

Ethics in Ethnographic Research

•Researchers must make their research goals clear to the
members of the community where they undertake their
•Learn whether the group would prefer to be named in the
written report of the research or be given pseudonym
•The research should not harm or exploit those among
whom the research is done.