The form of research known as Ethnography Essay Example
The form of research known as Ethnography Essay Example

The form of research known as Ethnography Essay Example

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  • Pages: 5 (1196 words)
  • Published: September 26, 2017
  • Type: Case Study
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Ethnography refers to a research method that involves closely observing sociocultural phenomena to understand the sociology of meaning. The ethnographer typically focuses on a community, which can be based on interests or activities rather than just geographic location. They select sources who have a comprehensive understanding of the community's activities and ask them to identify other sources representative of the community. By using chain sampling, the ethnographer aims to gather information from various areas of investigation. Informants are interviewed multiple times, utilizing previous information to elicit further clarification and deeper responses during subsequent interviews. This process aims to uncover shared cultural understandings related to the phenomena being studied. These subjective yet collective understandings are often seen as more meaningful than objective data such as income disparities. It is important to note that ethnogr


aphy can also be approached as an artistic and cultural preservation endeavor, focusing on descriptive aspects rather than analytical ones. However, the emphasis here is on the social science analytical aspects of ethnography. Within this context, ethnography is considered a subfield of cultural anthropology. For related information, refer to the sections on content analysis and case study research.

Key Concepts and Footings

The ethnographic method begins by selecting a civilization and reviewing relevant literature about that culture. Variables of interest, typically those perceived as important by members of the culture, are then identified. The next step is to establish entry into the culture, which allows the ethnographer to fully immerse themselves in the culture. It is not uncommon for ethnographers to live within the culture for extended periods of time, ranging from months to years.

The middle stages of the ethnographic metho

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involve gathering sources and using them to acquire even more sources through a chaining process. Data collection takes the form of experimental transcripts and interview recordings. Data analysis and theory development occur towards the end of the process; however, theories may emerge from cultural immersion and theory articulation by members of the culture. The aim of the ethnographic researcher is to avoid theoretical biases and instead derive theories from the perspectives of the culture's members and from observation. The researcher may seek validation of induced theories by consulting members of the culture for their feedback.

The term "ethnography" is often defined by Hammersley and Atkinson (1995: 1) as primarily referring to a specific method or set of methods.In its most characteristic form, ethnography involves the ethnographer actively participating in people's lives for a prolonged period of time. They observe and listen to what happens, asking questions and collecting data to shed light on specific research issues. According to Johnson (2000:111), ethnography is a detailed account of social life and culture in a specific social system, based on careful observations of people's actual behaviors. Ethnographic methods can vary, with some researchers advocating the use of structured observation schedules to code observed behaviors or cultural artifacts for later statistical analysis. Coding and statistical analysis are discussed in Hodson (1999), as well as in Denzin and Lincoln (1994). Macro-ethnography focuses on studying broadly-defined cultural groups, such as "the English" or "New Yorkers." On the other hand, micro-ethnography focuses on narrowly-defined cultural groups, such as "local government GIS specialists" or "members of Congress." The emic perspective is an important approach in ethnographic research, as it focuses on how members

of a particular culture perceive their world. Descriptive anthropology usually gives more emphasis to the emic perspective.The etic position of ethnographic research focuses on the perception and interpretation of behaviors and phenomena by non-members (foreigners) within a given civilization. Situational reduction, as proposed by Collins (1981, 1988), analyzes societal structures and dynamics by breaking them down into the accumulated effects of microsituational interactions. In other words, understanding the world in a microcosm provides a stronger and empirically grounded theory that reveals the real-life situations and behaviors shaping its phenomena. Symbols, inherent to ethnographic research, encompass any material artifact of a culture, including art, clothing, and technology. The ethnographer aims to comprehend the cultural intentions associated with these symbols, such as how technology is perceived in relation to a desired change in the civilization. Cultural patterning involves observing patterns in cultural relationships that involve two or more symbols.Ethnographic research takes a holistic approach, viewing symbols as interconnected elements rather than isolated entities. It employs various methods to understand these symbols. One method is conceptual mapping, which uses the terminology used by members of the culture to connect symbols across different behaviors and contexts. Another method focuses on the process of learning in order to comprehend how a culture transmits its important values across generations. A third method examines the process of validation, seeking to understand which cultural elements are officially prescribed or prohibited and which are informally regulated, and how they are enforced. Tacit knowledge refers to deeply-rooted cultural beliefs that are implicitly understood by members of a culture and must be inferred by the ethnographer.


Ethnography assumes that the primary research interest

is heavily influenced by cultural understandings within a community. The methodology used ensures that common cultural understandings will be identified for the research at hand. Interpretation places considerable importance on the causal significance of these cultural understandings.There is a potential for an ethnographic focus to overestimate the role of cultural perceptions and underestimate the role of objective forces. Ethnography assumes the ability to understand the relevant community, but this can be difficult in some situations. The importance of community culture and individual or sub-community forces may vary over time, location, and issue. The researcher must have knowledge of the culture, language, and comprehensive understanding to avoid bias. Cross-cultural ethnographic research can mistakenly assume that certain measures have the same meaning across cultures.

Frequently Asked Questions:
1. Is ethnography a subjective instead of scientific social science research method?The selection of sources for research is not based on the researcher's personal judgments but on identifications made by community members. Similarly, the understanding of cultural aspects of phenomena is not based on the researcher's personal insights or specific community members, but on perspectives validated through repeated, in-depth interviews with a diverse range of representative sources. Ethnographers may also validate findings through archival research, consulting with experts, using surveys, and other techniques unique to ethnography. However, ethnographic interviews provide more detailed information compared to survey research. Ethnographers address subjectivity criticisms by emphasizing that their approach avoids preconceived models and derives meaning from community informants themselves, whereas survey instruments often reflect the researcher's preconceived conceptual categories before encountering respondents.

The Human Relations Area Files (HRAF), based at Yale University, comprise a large collection of pre-coded ethnographic field studies from approximately 350 cultures.

Initially only available on microfiche, subsets of this collection are now accessible on CD-ROM. Coded topics within these studies include marriage, family, crime, education, religion, and warfare.The researcher needs to code variables of interest that go beyond the pre-coded information provided by HRAF. There have been numerous articles that rely on the HRAF cultural database, and collections of coding techniques are detailed in Barry and Schlegel's work on explosive detection systems (1980). Ethnographic coding methods, as outlined in Hodson (1999), are well-suited for utilization with the HRAF database.

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