A Guide to Ethnography

Ethnography is a type of qualitative research that involves immersing yourself in a particular community or organization to observe their behavior and interactions.

The central aim of ethnography is to provide rich, holistic insights into people’s views and actions, as well as the nature of the location they inhabit, through the collection of detailed observations and interviews.

Ethnographic research originated in the field of anthropology but it is a common approach in various social science fields.

For example, ethnographic research has been used to investigate:

  • Youth Gangs
  • Football Fans
  • Call Center Workers
  • Police Officers.
  • Religious Gangs

Why do we Use Ethnography

Ethnography is primarily used in the following instances:

  • Searching for the meanings of cultural norms and views
  • Trying to understand the reasons for the use of certain behavior or practices
  • Examining social trends and instances like divorce,illness and migration
  • Examining social interactions and encounters

Advantages of Ethnography

These are some of the advantages of Ethnography:

  • Ethnographies can reveal qualities of group experience in a way that other research methods cannot
  • You develop with research participants over the period of study.
  • It provides a rich source of visual data 
  • It captures behaviour in the different contexts of everyday life
  • This research provides understanding behind statistics.
  • It allows emotional behaviour to be captured.
  •  it helps to identify discrepancies between what people say they do and what they actually do.
  • Ethnographies can help determine future questions and types of follow-up research.

Disadvantages of Ethnography

These are some disadvantages of Ethnography:

  • These tend longer to generate and analyze.
  • It is possible that subjects may not act naturally during a short study.
  • Subjects might not be open and honest.
  • It takes time to build trust with informants in order to facilitate full and honest discourse.
  • Inexperienced researchers might detail an experience which is not representative, accurate and fair.
  • Bias on the part of the researcher can affect both the design of the study and the collection and interpretation of data.
  • Too little data may lead to false assumptions about behaviour patterns,
  • Large quantities of data may not be processed effectively.

Different approaches to ethnographic research

There are different approaches to ethnographic research, let’s check all of them

Open vs. closed settings

closed or private setting is harder to access. This may be for example a business, a school, or a cult.

An open or public setting is one with no formal barriers to entry. For example, fans of a Baseball team

Active vs. passive observation

An active role involves trying to fully integrate, carrying out tasks and participating in activities like any other member of the community. The interviews are held in a natural environment, so as not to feel too formal. The researcher will observe the user going about their everyday tasks and ask questions to gain insight.

passive role is one in which the ethnographer stands back from the activities of others, behaving as a more distant observer and not involving themselves in the community’s activities. Observations will be documented throughout the day using a number of methods such as taking notes, photographs, sketches or videos

Digital Ethnography

Digital ethnography is also seen as virtual ethnography. Digital ethnography allows for a lot more opportunities to look at different cultures and societies.

Traditional ethnography may use videos or images, but digital ethnography goes more in-depth. For example, digital ethnographers would use social media platforms such as Twitter or blogs so that people’s interactions and behaviors can be studied.