A. Meaning of Ethnographic Research B. Methodology of Ethnographic Research C. Types of Ethnographic Designs D. Key Characteristics of an Ethnographic Design
MEANING OF ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH Ethnography is the in-depth study of naturally occurring behavior within a culture or social group. It seeks to understand the relationship between culture and behavior; with culture referring to the beliefs, values, and attitudes of a specific group of people. The ethnographic research method was developed by anthropologists as a way of studying and describing human cultures. Anthropologists immerse themselves in the lives of the people they study, using primarily extended observation and occasionally in-depth interviewing to gain clarification and more detailed information.
The ethnographer undertakes the study without any priori hypotheses to avoid predetermining what is observed or what information is elicited from informants. The ethnographer explores and tests hypotheses, but the hypotheses evolve out of the fieldwork itself. Ethnographer refer to the people from whom they gather information as informants rather than participants, and they study sites rather than individuals. The term ethnography is used to refer to both the work of studying a culture and also the end product of the research.
Spindler and Hammond (2000) describe some of the characteristics of good ethnography: (1) extended participant observation; (2) long time at the site; (3) collection of large volumes of materials such as notes, artifacts, audio, and videotapes; and (4) openness, which means having no specific hypotheses or even highly specific categories of observation at the start of the study
As in any studies, a variety of data collection techniques may be used as part of the ethnographic study. Common means of collecting data include interviewing, document analysis, participant observations, research diaries, and life stories. It is not the data collection techniques that determine whether the study is ethnography but rather the “socio-cultural interpretation that sets apart from other forms of qualitative inquiry. Ethnography is not defined by how data are collected, but by the lens through which the data are interpreted (Merriam & Associated, 2002)
Ethnographic Designs are qualitative research procedures for describing, analyzing, and interpreting a culture-sharing group’s shared patterns of behavior, beliefs, and language that develop over time. To understand the patterns of a culture-sharing group, the ethnographer typically spends considerable time in the field interviewing, observing, and gathering documents about the group in order to understand their culture-sharing behaviors, beliefs, and language.
Spradley (1980) identified the sequence of steps making up the methodology of ethnographic research: Selecting an Ethnographic Project. The scope of these projects can vary greatly, from studying a whole complex society to a single social situation or institution. The beginner would be wise to restrict the scope of his or her project to a single social situation so that it can be completed in a reasonable time. A social situation always has three components: a place, actors, and activities.
2.Asking Ethnographic Questions. The researcher needs to have questions in mind that will guide what he or she sees and hears and the collection of data. Collecting Ethnographic Data. The researcher does fieldwork to find out the activities of the people, the physical characteristics of the situation, and what it feels like to be part of the situation. This step generally begins with an overview comprising broad descriptive observations. Then, after looking at the data, you move on to more focused observations. Here you use participant observation, in-depth interviews, and so on to gather data.
Making an Ethnographic Record. This step includes taking field notes and photographs, making maps, and using any other appropriate means to record the observations. Analyzing Ethnographic Data. The fieldwork is always followed by data analysis, which leads to new questions and new hypotheses, more data collection, and field notes, and more analysis. The cycle continues until the project is completed. 6.Writing the Ethnography. The ethnography should be written so that the culture or group is brought to life, making readers feel they understand the people and their way of life. The ethnographic report can range in length from several pages to a volume or two. You can greatly simplify this task by beginning the writing early as data accumulate instead waiting until the end. The writing task will also be easier if, before writing, you read other well-written ethnographies.
TYPES OF ETHNOGRAPHIC DESIGNS Realist Ethnographies Realist ethnography is a popular approach used by cultural anthropologists. It is an objective account of the situation, typically written in the third person point of view, reporting objectively on the information learned from participants at a field site.
The realist ethnographer narrates the study in a third-person
dispassionate voice and reports on observations of participants and their views. The ethnographer does not offer personal reflections in the research report and remains in the background as an omniscient reporter of the facts.
The researcher reports objective data in a measured style uncontained by personal bias, political goals, and judgment. The researcher may provide mundane details of everyday life among the people studied. The ethnographer also uses standard categories for cultural description (family, work life, social networks, and status systems).
The ethnographer produces the participants’ view through closely edited quotations and has the final word on the interpretation and presentation of the culture. (Van Maanen, 1988)
Case Studies A case study is an important type of ethnography, although it differs from ethnography in several important ways. Case study researchers may focus on a program, event, or activity involving individuals rather than a group per se (Stake, 1995). The ethnographer searches for the shared patterns that develop as a group examine at the beginning of a study, especially one from anthropology; instead they focus on an in-depth exploration of a bounded system (activity, event, process, or individuals) based on extensive data collection (Creswell, 1998)
Critical Ethnographies Ethnography now incorporates a “ critical approach” (Carspecken, 1995; Carspecken & Apple, 1992; Thomas, 1993) to include an advocacy perspective to ethnography. Critical ethnographies are a type of ethnographic research in which the author is interested in advocating for the emancipation of groups marginalized in our society (Thomas, 1993). Critical researchers are typically politically minded individuals who seek , through research, to advocate against inequality and domination (Carspecken & Apple, 1992).
The major components of a critical ethnography are the ff:
Critical researchers are usually politically minded people.
Critical ethnographers speak to an audience on behalf of their participants as a means of empowering participants by giving them more authority.
Critical ethnographers seek to change the society.
Critical ethnographers identify and celebrate their biases in research. The y recognize that all research is value laden.
Critical ethnographers challenge the status quo and ask why it is so.
Critical researchers seek to connect the meaning of a situation to broader structures of social power and control.
Critical researchers seek to create a literal dialogue with the participants they are studying.
KEY CHARACTERISTICS OF AN ETHNOGRAPHIC DESIGN With the diverse approaches to ethnography identified in the realist, case study, and critical approaches, it is not easy to identify characteristics they have in common. However, for those learning about ethnographers, the ff. characteristics typically mark an ethnographic study:
A Culture-Sharing Group
Shared patterns of behavior, belief , and language
Description, themes, and interpretation
Context or Setting
Cultural Themes Ethnographers typically study cultural themes drawn from cultural anthropology. Ethnographers do not venture into the field looking haphazardly for anything they might see. Instead, they are interested in adding to the knowledge about culture and studying specific cultural themes. A cultural theme in ethnography is a general position, declared or implied, that is openly approved or promoted in a society or group. As with all qualitative studies, these does not serve to narrow the study, instead, it becomes a broad lens that researchers use when they initially enter a field to study a group, and they look for manifestations of it.
A Culture-Sharing Group In the study of a group, ethnographers identify a single site (elementary classroom), locate a group within it (reading group), and gather data about the group (observe a reading period). This distinguishes ethnography from other forms of qualitative research that focus on individuals rather than groups of people. A culture-sharing group in ethnography is two or more individuals who have shared behaviors, beliefs, and language.
Shared Patterns of Behavior, Belief, and Language Ethnographic researchers look for shared patterns of Behavior, beliefs, and language that the culture-sharing group adopts over time. This characteristic has several Elements to it. First, the culture-sharing group needs to have Adopted shared patterns that the ethnographer can discern. A shared pattern in ethnography is a common social Interaction that stabilizes as tacit rules and expectations of The group (Spindler & Spindler, 1992). Second, the group Shares any one or a combination of behaviors, beliefs, and Language.
A behavior in ethnography is an action taken by an individual in a cultural setting.
A belief in ethnography is how an individual thinks about or perceives things in a cultural setting.
Language in ethnography is how an individual talks to others in a cultural setting.
Fieldwork Ethnographers collect data through spending time at participants’ sites where they live, work, or play. To understand best patterns of a cultural group, an ethnographer spends considerable time with the group. The patterns cannot be easily discerned through questionnaires or brief encounters. Instead, the ethnographer goes to the “field,” lives with or frequently visits the people being studied and slowly learns the cultural ways in which the group behaves or thinks.
Fieldwork in ethnography means that the researcher gathers data in the setting where the participants are located and where their shared patterns can be studied. This data collection involves the following:
Emic Data is information supplied by participants in a study. Emic often refers to first-order concepts, such as local language, concepts, and ways of expression used by members in a cultural-sharing group (Schwandt, 2001)
Etic Datais information representing the ethnographers' interpretation of the participants’ perspectives. Etic typically refers to second-order concepts, such as the language used by the social scientist or educator, to refer to the same phenomena mentioned by the participants (Schwandt, 2001)_
Negotiation Dataconsists of information that the participant and the researcher agree to use in a study. Negotiation occurs at different stages in research, such as agreeing to entry procedures for a research site, mutually respecting individuals at the site, and developing a plan for giving back or reciprocating with the individuals.
Description, Themes, and Interpretation A description in ethnography is a detailed rendering of individuals and scenes in order to depict what is going on in the culture-sharing group. To do this, the researcher must single out some detail to include while excluding others. Theme Analysis moves away from reporting the facts to making an interpretation of people and activities. As part of making sense of the information, thematic data analysis in ethnography consists of distilling how things work and naming the essential features in themes in the cultural setting. After description and analysis comes interpretation. In interpretation, the ethnographer draws inferences and forms conclusions about what was learned. This phase of analysis is the most subjective.
Context or Setting Ethnographer present the description, themes, and Interpretation within the context or setting of the culture- Sharing group. The context for ethnography is the setting, Situation, or environment that surrounds the cultural group Being studied. It is multilayered and interrelated, consisting Of such factors as history, religion, politics, economy, and the Environment (Fetterman, 1998)
Researcher Reflexivity Ethnographic researchers make interpretations and write their report reflexively. Reflexivity in ethnography refers to the researcher being aware of and openly discussing his or her role in the study in a way that honors and respects the site and participants.