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Ethnographic Research

Ethnographic Research
Chapter Twenty-One

What is Ethnographic Research?

Ethnographic Research is considered the most

complex of all research methods.
A variety of approaches is used in an attempt to
obtain as holistic a picture as possible of a
particular society, group, setting, etc.
The emphasis is on documenting the everyday
experiences of individuals by observing and
interviewing them and relevant others.
The key tools are in-depth interviewing and
continual, ongoing participant observation of a

Ethnographic Procedures

Wolcott (1966) stated that ethnographic

procedures require three things:

A detailed description of the culture-sharing group

being studied.
An analysis of this group in terms of perceived
themes or perspectives.
Some interpretation of the group by the
researcher as to meanings and generalization
about the social life of human beings, in general.

The Unique Value

of Ethnographic Research

Ethnographic research has a particular

strength that makes it especially
appealing to many researchers.
It can reveal nuances and subtleties
that other methodologies miss.
By going out into the world and
observing things as they occur, we are
better able to obtain a more accurate

Ethnographic Concepts

Holistic Perspective
An Emic

Thick Description
Member Checking
A Nonjudgmental

These concepts guide the work of ethnographers as they perform field resea

Topics that Lend Themselves Well

to Ethnographic Research

Topics that defy simple

Topics that can be
best understood in a
natural setting
Topics that involve the
study of individual or
group activities over

Topics that involve the

study of the roles that
educators play, and
behaviors associated
with those roles
Topics that involve the
study of the activities
and behavior of groups
as a unit
Topics involving the
study of formal
organizations in their

Sampling in Ethnographic

Ethnographers attempt to observe

However, no researcher can observe
everything at once.
Samples are small and do not permit
generalization to a larger population.
Their goal is the complete understanding of
a particular situation.

Do Ethnographic Researchers
Use Hypotheses?

Ethnographers seldom initiate their

research with precise hypotheses.
They attempt to understand an ongoing
situation or set of activities that cannot be
predicted in advance.
Ethnographic research relies on both
observation and interviewing that is
continual and sustained over time.

Data Collection
in Ethnographic Research

There are two main methods of collecting

data through Ethnographic Research:

Interviewing is the most important tool

Participant Observation is crucial to
effective fieldwork, which requires an
immersion in the culture

Field notes are used to check the accuracy of an

ethnographers observations
Other forms of writing used are field jottings, field
diary, and field logs

Data Analysis
in Ethnographic Research

(checking the validity
by comparing sources
of information)
Patterns (checking
reliability by revealing
consistencies and
describing matches)
Key Events (a lens
through which to view
a culture)

Visual Representations
(maps, charts,
Statistics (use of nonparametric techniques)
Crystallization (when
everything falls into

Triangulation and Politics (Figure 21.1)

Advantages and Disadvantages

of Ethnographic Research


A key strength is that it

provides the researcher
with a much more
perspective than other
forms of research
It is also appropriate to
behaviors that are best
understood by observing
them within their natural
environment (dynamics)


It is highly dependent on
the researchers
observations and
There is no way to check
the validity of the
researchers conclusion,
since numerical data is
rarely provided
Observer bias is almost
impossible to eliminate
Generalizations are almost
non-existent since only a
single situation is
observed, leaving
ambiguity in the study