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Ethnography. Emillia Masaka & Allyson O’Brien. What is Ethnography?. From the Greet root words: Ethnos “folk, people” Grapho “to write”

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EmilliaMasaka & Allyson O’Brien

what is ethnography
What is Ethnography?
  • From the Greet root words:

Ethnos “folk, people”

Grapho “to write”

“Ethnography involves direct engagement with the participants and environments to obtain an in-depth description and interpretation of behavior within a culture or social group”

(McMillan & Wergin, 2010, p. 7).

what is ethnography continued
What is Ethnography? Continued

“Ethnography is both a product –the book which tells a story about a group of people-and a process-the method of inquiry which leads to the production of the book”

(LeCompte & Preissle, 1993, p. 1).

“Ethnographies are documents that pose questions at the margins between two cultures. They necessarily decode one culture while recording it for another”

(Maanen, 1988, p.4 ).


Ethnographic writing is determined in at least six ways:

  • Contextually
  • Rhetorically
  • Institutionally
  • Generically
  • Politically
  • Historically

(Clifford, 1986, p.6)

key terms
Key Terms:

Phenomenology- knowledge that is gained by understanding through direct experience with others

Foreshadowed Problem - the research hypothesis or framework for the study

Emergent- the design should be flexible, ever changing while the study develops with the participants and the researcher

  • When the researcher goes on “the field” or the actual location and habitat of the participants to observe them through discrete trials and direct participation.
  • The duration of the fieldwork varies, depending on the details of the study. Some studies may be seasonal where as others might last several years.
  • Within fieldwork, interviews and surveys, are also acceptable forms of data collection.

“Three modes of data collection are emphasized- interview, observation, and document review. The researcher engages in extensive involvement in the culture itself to study behavior as it occurs naturally”

(McMillan & Wergin, 2010, p. 90)

participant observation
Participant Observation
  • “Ethnographers share houses, raise their children, become ill, and have emotional crises among the people they study. To the extent that they become a part of the community and have the same experiences as natives do, the quality of data is improved”

(LeCompte& Preissle,1993, p.92)

direct observation
Direct Observation
  • A more detached perspective, not directly engaged with participants
  • Unlike Participant Observation, this data collection method takes much less time and commitment
  • Ethnography today focuses on participant observation as opposed to when direct observation was the norm
  • Being aware of our own cultural biases and perspectives can allow one to put aside differences in opinion and truly immerse into another culture.
  • By having an open and flexible mind, researchers are more receptive to all they are experiencing.
  • With a neutral standpoint one has a broader scope to process cultural phenomenaand enhance the credibility of the study.
emic data etic data
Emic Data&Etic Data

Human behavior data organized into two categories;

Emicdata relates to fieldwork

Eticdata are the viewpoints obtained after the fieldwork has been analyzed and assessed

social validity
Social Validity
  • to have cultural awareness and sensitivity, to gain acceptance from the community in which you are accessing
  • Validity relies upon accurate knowledge of social constructs and behaviors. This can be interesting in that smaller sub cultures within larger cultures have different social meanings and understandings for many things.


Does the research include a history of the people?

Is it descriptive of the geography, climate and habitat?

Purposeful Sample-

Are the participants appropriate in relation to the foreshadowed problem?

Is the population described adequately and fairly?



Do the research results provide insights that are useful in other settings?

“Because qualitative inquiry stems from a different epistemological tradition, the standards used for judging it are, accordingly different as well. Instead of external validity, the usefulness of the study to other settings and contexts is its transferability”

(McMillan & Wergin, 2010, p. 91)


How does the study affect you? What did it teach you?

Did it contribute to a greater understanding of social life?



Does the research seem accurate, valid and credible?

Is the data supported through logical analysis?

“Credibility is the extent to which the design is rigorous, the researchers’ positioning clear, the analysis of data transparent and open to cross-examination, and the results accurate and trustworthy. Threats are instrumentation and research bias”

(McMillan & Wergin, 2010, p. 91).



Does the research exhibit reflexivity?

Is the researcher accountable for limitations and biases?

“How are the truths of cultural accounts evaluated? Who has the authority to separate science from art? Realism from fantasy? knowledge from ideology? Of course such separations will continue to be maintained, and redrawn; but their changing poetic and political grounds will be less easily ignored. In cultural studies at least, we can no longer know the whole truth, or even claim to approach it”

(Pratt, 1986, p.25)


What are some experiences you’ve had with Ethnography?

How did these experiences shape your epistemology?


LeCompte, M. D., & Preissle, J. (1993). Ethnography and qualitative design in educational research. (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Maanen, J. V. (1988). Tales of the field: On writing ethnography. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

McMillan, J. H., & Wergin, J. F. (2010). Understanding and evaluating educational research. (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Pratt, M. L. (1986). Fieldwork in common places. In J. Clifford & G. E. Marcus (Eds.), Writing culture: The poetics and politics of ethnography (pp.25). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.