Ethnography is a research method used to learn about the lives of others. It helps us understand how and why people behave differently in various societies or cultures.
Ethnographic research is the process of collecting data about a group of people. It’s a popular technique used by anthropologists, sociologists and others who study human behavior. It’s mainly thought of as a qualitative research method, which means it allows us to study subjects that don’t lend themselves to numerical data. But, it can be used to collect quantitative data as well.
To find out more about the meaning of ethnographic research, read on.
What Is Ethnographic Research?
Ethnographic Research Methods
When To Use Ethnographic Research Methods
Examples Of Ethnographic Research
Challenges Of Ethnographic Research
Advantages Of Ethnographic Research
What Is Ethnographic Research?
When we wish to understand a particular social phenomenon, ethnographic research can be a useful tool.
Ethnography is a great method to understand how cultures work and affect the people who belong to them. To do this properly requires detailed observations about what is going on in a particular society. Here are some defining features of this type of research:
- We can conduct ethnographic research in the natural setting of subjects or respondents. Researchers must travel to where their subjects are. The fieldwork can be completed by several researchers who specialize in this type of work if it spans a large sample size or a wide geographical area.
- Ethnographic researchers avoid making judgments about specific cases. They don’t judge people on dimensions such as morality and social behavior. Instead, they describe their experience of social groups. They don’t treat people as objects for data collection but as subjects who must give their informed consent for such research.
- There are focused ethnographic methods where only one type of data is collected. For example, if the subject is food eaten in a certain culture, researchers may concentrate on kitchen habits, recipes and how food is sourced.
- You can collect demographic data, which includes information about the culture’s people. This is where quantitative data can also come into play.
- Ethnographers need large amounts of data. The more time researchers spend immersed in the subject’s society, the better understanding they’ll have of the culture.
Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is ethnographic research?”, let’s look at how it’s done.
Ethnographic Research Methods
As we’ve discovered, ethnographic research is a method often used to study another culture or group of people. It’s a powerful tool to understand the world better. It can be done through observation, active participation and even interviews with the people being studied.
In the field, anthropologists often take notes while observing their subjects. They also record conversations and keep a journal of what they see. Later, these findings get transcribed and analyzed for accuracy. In addition, multiple researchers can work to get a clear picture of a culture or community. All of this data can go into a book, article, or scientific report that describes the findings of the group’s research.
Let’s look at some specific research techniques used in an ethnographic study:
As the goal of ethnographic research is closely studying an individual (or group) in their natural environment, observation is the primary method used. Researchers can observe the same people or groups on a regular basis for several weeks or months at a time.
The researchers can interview two people within the same culture. They may be related to each other in some way or involved in different actions. This method is used to gather data in many types of research, including medical research.
The researcher joins a group of people being studied, either by living with them or by observing them for an extended period of time during the day. They record what they see. Participant observation is most often used in social science fields, including anthropology, social psychology and sociology.
Field notes come in two types: primary and secondary. In some types of research, such as participatory action research, field notes are the primary documents for analysis and interpretation. However, field notes are often secondary documents used to provide background information for analysis and interpretation.
While ethnography is a useful method of research, it isn’t suitable for all situations.
When To Use Ethnographic Research Methods
Some consider ethnographic research more art than science. Cultures and cultural phenomena aren’t easy to quantify, so they can be open to interpretation. That’s when the meaning of ethnographic research really comes into its own.
Quantitative researchers try to gather data objectively through numbers and statistics, while qualitative researchers use their observations to describe what they see taking place in a particular culture or society. Quantitative research tries to infer from past experiences to predict future events or results. Qualitative researchers aim to understand a culture or society by listening to what its members have to say about it.
Ethnographers can employ quantitative methods in their study. But, it’s the qualitative component that sets this method apart. The data can shed light on an issue. That’s why ethnographic methods can be so effective in getting to know groups of people, their cultures and social interactions. It tends to be used in anthropology, sociology and political science but has wider applications too.
Examples Of Ethnographic Research
Ethnographic research can be used to study issues big and small, cultural or business-related. Here are a few examples of its uses:
- The principal subject of ethnography or ethnological research is to study culture, society, ethnic groups and human behavior.
- Among cognitive scientists, ethnographic research is usually done to understand the general functioning of cognition in a particular group of people.
- In business, we can see examples of ethnographic research used for product development, where companies learn how consumers use their products.
- It also applies to marketing research, where companies can develop a sense of how the public thinks about their product.
- In social work, ethnographic research is used to find out how people cope with problems and challenges they face in their daily lives.
- Another application is in the design of interactive technologies. By observing how people interact with existing technologies, engineers can design new ones that are more effective and user-friendly.
These are just a few examples of how ethnographic research can be used.
Challenges Of Ethnographic Research
As with other research methods, there are challenges to ethnographic research. It’s important to consider these before choosing the right research method. Here are some points to keep in mind:
- It’s time-consuming. In almost every case, it takes a lot of effort for anthropologists to go into another culture and learn about it.
- Results from ethnographic research only apply to the people being studied. It’s difficult to generalize those results to other cultures or societies as a whole.
- The specifics of what was said in an interview may not be reported accurately due to communication barriers. It may also be because researchers weren’t sensitive to the people being studied. If an ethnographer is insensitive to a culture’s people, they may not talk with them freely.
- It’s subject to interpretation. A researcher’s interpretation of the data may be biased.
- Sometimes people don’t want their cultural information shared with outsiders. This may prevent them from speaking clearly or giving consent to researchers.
- There are practical and ethical concerns of ethnographic research. However, getting prior consent of the participants, maintaining their confidentiality and a proper research design can mitigate these issues.
Advantages Of Ethnographic Research
Just as there are drawbacks, there are clear advantages to using ethnographic research. Let’s recap these:
- Ethnography can make it easier for researchers to understand a culture and the way people see themselves. This gives researchers a wider view of how cultures function, which can be very helpful.
- Ethnographic research also allows researchers to document a society or group of people. People around the world can then benefit from that knowledge.
- It provides a different way to collect data about social structures and the way people interact with one another.
- We can also use ethnographic research as a form of advocacy. For example, anthropologists can help those being studied gain access to resources that were previously unavailable to them. By studying remote or marginalized communities, we can better understand their needs and priorities.
These are just a few of the strengths of ethnographic research, a widely used method in the social sciences. Ethnographic research can provide valuable insights into people and how they live. That’s important information to have for a professional on an upward trajectory.
Understanding the nuances of consumers, markets and social change can give you a huge leg up. With Harappa’s Thinking Critically course, our learners achieve this and more. Decision-making, planning and course correction are all easier when teams are equipped with the frameworks and knowledge to think better.
Explore Harappa Diaries to learn more about topics such as What is Case Study Research Methodology, Meaning Of Qualitative Research, Examples of Experimental Research and How To Improve Cognitive Skills to upgrade your knowledge and skills.
What are examples of ethnographic topics? ›
It is used not only to study distant or unfamiliar cultures, but also to study specific communities within the researcher's own society. For example, ethnographic research (sometimes called participant observation) has been used to investigate gangs, football fans, call center workers, and police officers.What is the most popular method of ethnographic research? ›
As the goal of ethnographic research is closely studying an individual (or group) in their natural environment, observation is the primary method used.
ethnography, descriptive study of a particular human society or the process of making such a study. Contemporary ethnography is based almost entirely on fieldwork and requires the complete immersion of the anthropologist in the culture and everyday life of the people who are the subject of his study.What are the ethnographic methods? ›
Ethnographic methods are a research approach where you look at people in their cultural setting, with the goal of producing a narrative account of that particular culture, against a theoretical backdrop.What are the three main types of ethnography? ›
However, in this article, they have been divided into 3 different categories and they are known as medical ethnography, business ethnography, and educational ethnography. These three categories have been chosen to provide the most possible information about human behavior and much more.Is ethnography a method or methodology? ›
Ethnography is a highly useful methodology for addressing a range of research questions within the health professions.What are the main focuses of ethnographic research? ›
Ethnographic research has an interest in culture and cultural meanings with an emphasis on the 'emic' or 'the insider' view. Ethnographies are based on fieldwork among the people whose culture is under study. Ethnography focuses on interpretation, understanding and representation.Is ethnography qualitative or quantitative? ›
Ethnography is a qualitative method for collecting data often used in the social and behavioral sciences. Data are collected through observations and interviews, which are then used to draw conclusions about how societies and individuals function.What are the 5 basic ethnographic techniques? ›
A popular and helpful categorization separate qualitative methods into five groups: ethnography, narrative, phenomenological, grounded theory, and case study.What does ethnographic mean in research? ›
Ethnography involves observing people in their own environment to understand their experiences, perspectives and everyday practices. This can give in-depth insight into a particular context, group or culture.
Who developed the ethnographic method? ›
Ethnography, as a method, was primarily developed and popularized by the well-known anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski. This approach was further popularized by anthropologist Franz Boas, who was highly influential in the United States.What types of data is collection in ethnographic research? ›
The ethnographer collects naturalistic data through 'participant observation', which means that the researcher must acquire the status of an insider and become part of a social group to some degree to observe and experience life as an insider would. This makes the method distinct from just 'observation'.What makes ethnography an effective research method? ›
Advantages of Ethnographic Research
This qualitative research approach collects first-hand information about the research variables and gives the ethnographer a wider range of data to work with thereby resulting in more objective research outcomes.
The data analysis in the ethnographic methodology is iterative and unstructured. There are three aspects of data analysis: description, analysis and interpretation. Description refers to the recounting and describing of data, inevitably treating the data as fact.Can ethnography be quantitative? ›
Quantitative Ethnography is a methodology that blends qualitative and quantitative approaches into a solution for overcoming the weaknesses of traditional methods when applied to big data. Quantitative Ethnography views big data—and data more generally—as evidence about the discourse of particular cultures.What are the limitations of ethnographic research? ›
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.What are the 5 qualitative approaches? ›
- Narrative research.
- Phenomenology research.
- Grounded theory research.
- Ethnographic research.
- Case study research.
In many respects, some aspects of ethnography research, such as participant observation, are almost by definition inductive, as researchers try to make sense of new findings uncovered in the field. Moreover, a number of theoretically informed ethnographies reflect both a deductive and inductive approach.What are the main advantages and limitations of ethnography as a research method? ›
-An advantage would be that it explains how people who are being studied understand their own behavior. -A limitation would be that only small groups can be studied, it depend's on the researcher's skill, and different researchers may draw different conclusions.Which of the following best describes ethnographic research? ›
Which of the following is a good description of ethnographic research? Involves participant observation in which researchers live with the people they study.
What is ethnography in qualitative research give examples? ›
A classic example of ethnographic research would be an anthropologist traveling to an island, living within the society on said island for years, and researching its people and culture through a process of sustained observation and participation.What is the difference between qualitative and ethnographic research? ›
Unlike other traditional qualitative research methods where participants may be required to attend experiments, interviews, or focus groups at a specific location, Ethnography aims to explore the lives of others in their natural environment.What are the 5 methods of research? ›
- Naturalistic Observation.
- Case Study.
- Observation Notes. Observation is an important method of qualitative data collection. ...
- Semi-structured interviews. ...
- Open-ended survey. ...
- Participant diaries or journals. ...
- Portfolios of evidence. ...
- Concept Maps. ...
- Case Studies. ...
- Focus Groups.
The subject coverage of ethnology includes that of social anthropology and sociology, but it is much broader. For instance, ethnology also includes technology and crafts, plastic and graphic arts, music, dancing, oral literature, dream analysis, religion, world view, ethics, and ethnomedicine.What is an ethnographic case study? ›
In essence, ethnographic case studies are case studies “employing ethnographic methods and focused on building arguments about cultural, group, or community formation or examining other sociocultural phenomena” (Schwandt & Gates, 2018, p. 344), typically with a long duration, per the demands of ethnographic work.What could be good objects or topics for historical research? ›
- Mexican-American War.
- Religion and Crusades.
- Causes of Thirty Years War.
- Use of Weapons in Ancient Civilizations.
- Bridal Ceremonies in Ancient Rome.
- Apartheid Impact.
- South America Colonization.
- Social Relationships in Medieval Europe.
Ethnographic research is a type of qualitative, inductive research approach in which the researcher studies a group of people to uncover their beliefs and behaviours. Ethnography papers are a unique form of academic writing that require you to explore someone's culture.What is ethnography in qualitative research give examples? ›
A classic example of ethnographic research would be an anthropologist traveling to an island, living within the society on said island for years, and researching its people and culture through a process of sustained observation and participation.Who is the father of ethnography? ›
|Alma mater||Jagiellonian University (PhD, 1908) London School of Economics (D.Sc., 1916)|
|Known for||Father of social anthropology, popularizing fieldwork, participatory observation, ethnography and psychological functionalism|
|Spouse(s)||Elsie Rosaline Masson, Valetta Swann|
What is ethnography and its objective? ›
Ethnography is a study through direct observation of users in their natural environment rather than in a lab. The objective of this type of research is to gain insights into how users interact with things in their natural environment.What are the main focuses of ethnographic research? ›
Ethnographic research has an interest in culture and cultural meanings with an emphasis on the 'emic' or 'the insider' view. Ethnographies are based on fieldwork among the people whose culture is under study. Ethnography focuses on interpretation, understanding and representation.What is an ethnographic design? ›
Design Ethnography is aimed at understanding the future users of a design, such as a certain service. It is a structured process for going into depth of the everyday lives and experiences of the people a design is for.Is Historical Research qualitative or quantitative? ›
Historical research is a qualitative technique. Historical research studies the meaning of past events in an attempt to interpret the facts and explain the cause of events, and their effect in the present events.What are examples of historical research? ›
Examples of primary sources include diaries, journals, speeches, interviews, letters, memos, photographs, videos, public opinion polls, and government records, among many other things.What is an example of historical analysis? ›
research that examines past events to understand current or future events. For example, researchers could perform a historical analysis of an individual's or a family's substance use experiences to understand the present substance use behavior of that person or group.How do you analyze data in ethnographic research? ›
The data analysis in the ethnographic methodology is iterative and unstructured. There are three aspects of data analysis: description, analysis and interpretation. Description refers to the recounting and describing of data, inevitably treating the data as fact.How do you write an ethnographic research question? ›
- What do you enjoy about this product or service?
- Why do you use this product?
- What specific needs does the product meet for you?
- What specific needs does the product fail to meet?
- Does the pricing of the product equate its value?