Sociology Index


What is Ethnographic Research? "rather than studying people, enthnography means learning from people." Spradley. Ethnographic research has broad implications for many fields. Ethnographic research uses participant observation as a tool for gathering information and is a form of what is termed qualitative research in contrast to quantitative research which focuses on measurement and formal analysis. As participant observer, the researcher in ethnographic research becomes actively immersed in the chosen setting in order to gain understanding through experiencing aspects of the life of an individual or group.

Ethnographic research is also central to symbolic interactionism, phenomenological sociology, labeling theory and ethnomethodology, where the goal is to comprehend the subjective perspectives of individuals. Contemporary ethnographic research may have limited amounts of time in which to conduct research.

Ethnographic research is linked to a reaction to positivism which distrusts subjectivity in research and attempts to treat human subjects as an object that can be scientifically investigated. Ethnographic research is the foundation of anthropology, which has been principally concerned with the descriptive recording and analysis of the group life of traditional, generally pre-literate, societies.

Ethnography is the study of people in their own environment through the use of methods such as participant observation and face-to-face interviewing. Anthropologists, ethnographers, and other social scientists engage in ethnography.

Ethnographers look at and record a people’s way of life as seen by both the people and the anthropologist; they take an emic or inside and etic or outside approach to describing communities and cultures. Those engaging in ethnographic research spend years in the place of study. Ethnographic research involves a detailed description of the whole of a culture outside of the country of origin of the researcher. Ethnographers produce written cultural descriptions known as ethnographies that communicate the information thus found.

Contemporary ethnographic research has the added dimension of not only looking at people outside of the county of origin of the researcher, but also seeks to better understand those who reside within the county of origin. Contemporary ethnographic research looks at what may be considered ordinary or mundane to those living within a community, as in shopping malls, towns, cities, cyberspace, libraries, and parks.