Sunday, January 13, 2008


Ethnography (ἔθνος ethnos = people and γράφειν graphein = writing) is the genre of writing that presents varying degrees of qualitative and quantitative descriptions of human social phenomena, based on fieldwork. Ethnography presents the results of a holistic research method founded on the idea that a system's properties cannot necessarily be accurately understood independently of each other. The genre has both formal and historical connections to travel writing and colonial office reports. Several academic traditions, in particular the constructivist and relativist paradigms, employ ethnographic research as a crucial research method. Many cultural anthropologists consider ethnography the essence of the discipline.

Hesse-Biber, S. N., & Leavy, P. (2006). The practice of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. (BSU Call No. H62.H478 2006)

Ethnographers ask questions such as:
  • How do individuals view their world?
  • What is their story?
  • How is a custom understood by members of a given culture? (p. 235)

Role of ethnographer
  • Complete observer: The researcher's identity remains hidden; the researcher doesn't interact with those in the setting but instead makes observations of the setting by using such devices as hidden video cameras or by remaining invisible behind a one-way mirror or a screen to avoid detection
  • Complete participant: The researcher actively engages with members of the setting; however, the researcher's identity is not known to the participants in the setting
  • Observer-as-participant: The researcher is required to reveal their identity in the setting, but the extent to which the researcher actively engages with the members of the setting is limited
  • Participant-as-observer: The researcher participates fully in the ongoing activities of the research setting, and the identity of the researcher is known to the members of the setting

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