minefields in conducting
Ethnographic Action Research
A paper prepared by Mr. Kennedy Javuru for the 1st Post Graduate
Students’ Conference held at the London Metropolitan University on the
12th November 2010
What is Ethnographic Action Research
Combines Ethnography and Action Research
• Ethnography: used in understanding culture. Is based on a long-term engagement with the
project through participant observation (Tacchi, Slater, & Hearn, 2003)
• The researcher embeds in the daily life of the community and participates in the culture
• Retains an analytical position and through reflection, describes and interprets the
subject of study
• Action Research: involve actions and reflection, theory and practice (Reason and Bradbury,
2001) with constant planning, acting, observing and reflecting on findings.
• Permits participation of stake holders.
• Reflection-in-action implies that there is no seperation of research and practice, of
knowing and doing (D. A. Schon, 1983)
• Encourages learning by doing.
• It is open to realities on the ground
Title of thesis: ‘Loud and clear’. Revisiting Amartya Sen’s Development as freedom in assessing the
role of community radio in development in Uganda.
• Amartya Sen’s Development as freedom: For people to be developed, they must enjoy five basic
a) political freedom
b) Economic facilities
c) Social opportunities
d) Transparency guarantees and
e) Protective securities
• Research Questions
(Main Research question)
Can community radio facilitate increases in political freedoms and social opportunities for
the people in rural Uganda?
• What are the social, political and economic conditions relevant to the role of community
radio in rural development in Uganda?
• Does the intrinsic level of interactivity and participatory nature of community radio influence
its role as a social actor?
• What is the nature of the relationship between Mama fm and the community it serves
• Mama fm. Mama (Swahili for mother)
• Located in Kisaasi in the outskirt of Kampala the capital city of Uganda
• Most popular and openly recognised community radio station in Uganda
• Formed and managed by a group of female journalists with women and the marginalised in
society as its target audience.
• Qualitative method of data collection (Ethnographic action research, interviews, focus group
discussion and document analysis)
Why ethnographic action research and has it worked?
• Takes a holistic approach looking at the whole social setting, social relationships,
understandings and meanings
• Gives a better understanding of the role of Mama fm from a local perspective with local
• A clear understanding of the community’s political, social and economic structure and how
the radio fits within these parameters.
• Through immersion in the field, everything is material (conversations, encounters etc)
• Can be combined with other research tools like interviews, focus group discussion and
Field/participant observation and analysis
Observations are classified along two major dimensions-the degree to which the researcher
participates in the behaviours under observation, and the degree to which the observation
is concealed. Wilmer and Dominick (1994)
• Lofland and Lofland (1995) The researcher becomes a participant in and a witness to lives of
• Field/participant observation have six stages:
a) Choosing the research site
b) Gaining access
d) Collecting data
e) Analysing data
f) Handling diplomacy and tact
Wilmer and Dominick (1994)
• Inspires the researcher to respect local knowledge and perspectives
• People centered in which respondents are encouraged to share their experiences
• Maintaining impartiality
• Being a stranger in the field site (language barrier and historical differences) Mama fm is
located in central Uganda. Luganda is the dominant dialect. I come from northern Uganda
and Luo is my dialect.
• Contaminated data
• Self conflicts
Agar (1996) Ethnography is neither subjective nor objective. It is interpretative, mediating
two worlds through a third.
• Interviews based not only on a clear plan that you keep constantly in mind, but also
characterised by a minimum control over respondents’ response.
• Building initial rapport with people before moving to more formal interviews
• Convenient for talking to respondents who would not tolerate a more formal interview.
• Where there is a likelihood of meeting a respondent only once-high level bureaucrats etc
• Total control
• Respondents are free to provide answers in their own words
• Exploring people’s opinions, interpretations and interactions
• They unveil unexpected information
• Allow respondents to show their own volition, creativity and initiative
• Knowledge received is contextual
• Danger of subjectivity. Rubin and Rubin (2003) ‘Two human beings concept’
• The ‘big man syndrome’
• Not appropriate if the respondent cannot express themselves well
• Sensitivity to respondents’ beliefs, values and experiences
• Can produce irrelevant information
• Time consuming
Focus Group Discussion
• Aka group interviews
• Bringing a group of people together to discuss a particular issue
• Group is focused about a collective activity
• Group members talk freely and spontaneously
• Provides valuable spontaneous information in a short space of time
• Not appropriate in discussing personal issues and feelings
• Studying documents published about or related to the subject of study
• Agar, M. H. (1996). The Professional Stranger. An Informal introduction to Ethnography (2nd
Ed). London. Academic Press
• D. A. Schon. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York:
• Lofland, J. & Lofland, L. H. (1995). Analysing social settings: A guide to qualitative observation
and analysis. Belmont: C.A: Wadsworth
• Joseph, R. Dominick. & Roger, D. Wilmer. (1994). Mass Media Research: An Introduction (4th
Ed). California. Wadsworth
• Reason, P., & Bradbury, H. (Eds). (2001). Handbook of action research: Participative inquiry
and practice. London: Sage
• Rubin, H. j., & Rubin, I. S. (2003). Qualitative Interviewing: The art of hearing data. Thousand
Oaks: C.A: Sage
• Sen, Amartya. (1999). Development as freedom. New York: Alfred Knopf
• Tacchi, J., Slater, D., & Hearn, G. (2003). Ethnographic action research: A handbook. New