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ETHNOGR APHY. Ethno: people or folk; Graphy: describe something = Ethnography: describing and understanding another way of life from the native point of view (Neuman, 2007). Aim History Methodology Examples Strengths & Weaknesses Historical-Comparative Research.

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ethnogr aphy

Ethno: people or folk; Graphy: describe something

= Ethnography: describing and understanding another way of life from the native point of view (Neuman, 2007)





Strengths & Weaknesses

Historical-Comparative Research

what is an eth nography
What is anEthnography?
  • It documents routine daily lives of people (Fetterman,1998)
  • Explores a cultural group
  • Lives with people, or spends a lot of time with them
  • Has a guiding question that evolves during the study (Hall, 2003)
where is it used
Where is it Used?
  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Sociology
  • Business
  • Organizational Psychology


Aim of Ethnography


Identifies geographical and temporal coordinates

Makes visible lives of those not normally told (Williams, 2000)

Tries to obtain insider’s view of how a group manages and organizes their time (Viller, 2004)

Understands the point of view from inside the group (McCleverty, 1997)

  • To identify behavior patterns and anticipate; to make the reader understand the perspective of the native to the culture studied (Fetterman, 1998)
  • Understand context, complexity, and politics of social processes (Warren, 2004)
history of anthropology ethn o graphy usa
History of Anthropology/Ethnography (USA)
  • Morgan
  • Lawyer and anthropologist
  • In 1851 he published an ethnography about Indians in the USA. He didn't gather the information himself- was a “sofa” anthropologist
history of anthrop ology united kingdo m
History ofAnthropology (United Kingdom)
  • The first ethnographies in Britain were published in 1898-1899. They were built on field research like we know it today
  • Malinowski
  • Considered the father of modern anthropology
  • Wrote numerous ethnographies that are well known still today
sir frazer about malin owski s methods in argonauts of the western pacific
Sir Frazer aboutMalinowski’s Methods in “Argonauts of theWestern Pacific.”
  • Malinowski’s work was done under the best conditions and provided the best possible results at that time
  • Good theoretical training
  • Stayed with the Trobriands for a great time
  • Lived as a native among natives
  • Watched them daily at work and at play
  • Had conversations with them in their own language
  • Derived information from personal observation
  • Statements directly by the natives
  • Characteristics of Malinowski’s method (Malinowski, 1922)
malinowski s methods
Malinowski´s Methods
  • “I consider that only such ethnographic sources are of unquestionable scientific value, in which we can clearly draw the line between, on the one hand, the results of direct observations and of native statements and interpretations, and on the other hand, the inferences of the author, based on his common sense and psychological insight” (Malinowski, 1922, p. 3)
malinowski im portant for ethnographic work
Malinowski -Important for Ethnographic Work:
  • Accurate information
  • Complex information
  • Observation
  • Speaking the native language is important
  • No contact with white people
  • Seek information naturally, instead of having informants
  • Should have a strong theoretical background
  • Join yourself with the natives
  • Typical ways of thinking and feeling
  • Use the native language as an instrument (Malinowski, 1922)
evans pritchard s methodology
Evans-Pritchard´s Methodology
  • Malinowski´s student
  • Did research among the Azande 1926-1930
  • 1930 published his ethnography “Witchcraft, oracles, and magic among the Azande”
  • Used informants
  • Native language
  • Length of stay 1-2 years
  • Get to know natives through the children
  • Live like the natives (Evans-Pritchard, 1988)
1950s 1980s ethno graphy as thick description clif ford geertz
1950s-1980s:Ethnography as “thick description” (Clifford Geertz)
  • Culture based
  • Meaning oriented. Meaning is “a set of culturally constructed and historically specific guides, frames, or models of and for human feeling, intention, and action” (Ortner 1999: 137)
  • Specific to time and place (i.e. cultural relativism)
  • Opposed to power and politics. “[C]ulture is not power, something to which social events, behaviours, institutions, or processes can be causally attributed; it is a context, something within which they can be intelligibly-that is, thickly-described”( Geertz 1973:14)
  • Opposed to the “thin description” of post-positivism
attributes of thick description
Attributes of Thick Description
  • Hermeneutics
  • Semiotics
  • Data: “our own constructions of other people’s constructions of what they and their compatriots are up to” (Geertz 1973:9)
  • Analysis: “guessing at meanings, assessing the guesses, and drawing explanatory conclusions for the better guesses” (p. 20)
  • Theory: a “General Theory of Cultural Interpretation” is not possible, but a “cultural theory” could be derived
  • Generalization: not possible across cases but within cases
  • Prediction: not prediction but anticipation

From 1980s:Re-emergence of politics and power in cultural/historical analysis of social Phenomena(Edward Said and Michel Foucault)

  • Social phenomena as effects of external power structures (e.g. political and economic institutions at the national and international level)
  • Influenced by the rise of new perspectives such as critical theory and neo-Marxist ideology
today s ethnography holistic and evolutionary in nature
Today’s Ethnography: Holistic and Evolutionaryin nature
  • Characterised by a lack of consensus
  • Dissolving conceptual oppositions (Sahlins 1993)
  • Departure from the approach of “searching under the disturbed topsoil of modernity for the traces of a pristine and primitive existence” (Sahlins 1993)
  • Analysis of local situations with reference to relevant external institutional/political structures
  • Eclecticism of methodologies/ methods
the effects of post modernism on ethnogra p hy
The Effects ofPost-Modernism on Ethnography
  • Postmodernist came into anthropology around 1980
  • Interpretation on interpretation on interpretation…
  • Reflexivity
  • Power
  • (Bowmann 1997, Layton 1997, Nugent 1996)

Outline of Process

  • Identifying problem or topic of interest
  • Fieldwork – Data collection and analysis
  • Participant Observation – Individuals and groups
  • Analysis – Holistic
  • Report (Fetterman, 1998)

Ethnographer’s Jargon

  • Emic – inside (Hall, 2003)
  • Etic – outside (Hall, 2003)
  • Key informant / key actor – individual of group who closely interacts with ethnographer (Fetterman, 1998)
  • Culture - beliefs, values, behaviors of a cohesive people (Morse and Richards, 2002)

Characteristics of Ethnographies

  • Holistic
  • Data collection and analysis occur together
  • Data collection oscillates between individuals and groups (Fetterman, 1998)

Fieldwork (Morse and Richards, 2002), (Fetterman, 1998)


  • Negotiating entry– the Gatekeeper, Key Actors, Key Informants
  • Introductory period –routines, roles, relationships
  • Participatory observation– important! (Hall, 2003)

Fieldwork Methods

  • Selection and sampling
  • Participant observation
  • Interviewing
  • Autobiographical interviewing
  • Questionnaires
  • Projective techniques
  • Participant’s classification
  • Outcropping
  • Existing documented information
  • Proxemics and kinesics
  • Folktales
  • Notes, notes, notes!!! (Fetterman, 1998)


  • Evaluating relevance
  • Looking for patterns
  • Considering phenomena through the cultural perspective
  • “Thick description” (Morse and Richards, 2002)
  • Classifications, parameters, etic observations
  • Maps, drawings, charts (Fetterman, 1998)

A few words on writing…

  • Writing must be good from the field notes to the final product
  • Write for your audience
  • Write for the objective – to make the etic perspective see the emic perspective
  • The National Park System Anthropology Background
    • Embedding Cultural Anthropology in NPS
      • Introduction of ERI (Ethnographic Resources Inventory) (Everett, 2006)
  • Sense of Place
    • By Keith Basso
  • Anarcho-Environmentalism Study
    • By Nicole Shepherd
    • Gaining Access
advantages and di sadvantages
Advantages andDisadvantages


  • In-Depth understanding of a culture amongst a group of people (detailed and more likely valid interpretations)
  • Gives a voice to a culture to express their views, which might not otherwise be heard
  • Influential in creating an understanding among outsiders
  • Also may reveal embedded cultural values that were not obvious to the group
advantages and di sadvantages27
Advantages andDisadvantages


  • Cumbersome and Time-consuming, and can be expensive
  • Possibility that researcher is changing the natural way a culture behaves by being present
  • Not really able to generalize findings
  • Inappropriate for analyzing complex environmental problems whose cause-effect relationships are external to the place and time of study (e.g., climate change)
  • Difficulty of reconciling constructive engagement with critical reflection
historical co mparative29
  • Deals with countries and history
  • Powerful tool for addressing big questions
    • Switzerland and the U.S. have been compared in terms of the use of democracy and women’s right to vote
    • Causes of Societal Revolutions: China, France and Russia
  • Need to have a knowledge of the past or other cultures to fully understand H-C studies
historical co mparative30
  • Organized along 3 dimensions:
    • Focus on one nation, small set of nations, or many nations
    • Focus on single time period or across many years
    • Focus analysis based on quantitative or qualitative
  • Uses case-studies to elaborate historical processes and specify concrete historical details
  • Researchers focus on culture
historical co mparative31
  • Relies on indirect evidence
  • Reconstructs what occurred from the evidence
  • Types of evidence:
    • Primary: Archival data: found in museums, archives, libraries, private collections
    • Secondary: What other historians have/are writing
    • Running-Record: Documentaries maintained by private or non-profit orgs
    • Recollections: Autobiographies, memoirs, oral histories
historical co mparative32
  • Strengths:
    • Prevents “hero-worship”
    • Creates understanding among outsiders
    • Raises concerns about old explanations and finds support for new ones that are context specific
  • Weaknesses:
    • Need to have a grasp of the past and about other cultures to be able to fully understand H-C studies
    • Reconstructs the past, may be inaccurate