When To Use Ethnography

According to Wolcott (1999) ethnography research can be used when one or more of the following conditions is/are satisfied:

  • While you are probing for meaning of cultural norms and views.
  • While you have to examine the use of certain behaviors or practices.
  • While examining social trends and instances, for example illness and divorce.
  • When the problem which is being investigated is not clear
  • When the problem is multifaceted and rooted in multiple systems or sectors
  • To identify participants when the participants, sectors, or stakeholders are not yet known or identified
  • To clarify the range of settings where the problem or situations is occurring at times when the settings are not fully identified, known or understood
  • When you want to investigate the problems associated with the problem
  • When the researchers role is recognized
  • Ethnography helps the researched integrate professional and personal life
  • When the ethnographer would like to focus on both verbal and non verbal behavior of the participant
  • When the researcher wants to makes the research motivating and daring
  • When the researcher needs deep insightful data
  • When the researcher wants to learn and use another native language
  • When the researcher does not have sufficient finances to fund the data collection

Types of Ethnography

The techniques of ethnographic research have changed in today’s milieu compared to studies which was carried out in the past, the main reason for the change is the increase of knowledge in fields like computer science, social science, statistics and linguistics. Apart from that, globalization trends in economics, education, and other fields have formed the types and foci of ethnographies. In addition the skills and experience of the ethnographer also influence the kind of ethnography she or he produces. For instance, an ethnographer whose epistemological stand is that a culture should be studied through language will give emphasis to the emic outlook and will use techniques which are analytical in nature which are resultant of ethnoscience.

The group size which is being investigated depends on the objective of the study. The ideal size of groups which are being investigated is about five members (McFeat, 1974; Willis & Trondman, 2000). According to Werner and Schoepfle (1987) microethnography refers to study of small groups consisting of less than fifteen members. The terms mini ethnography is used to describe a narrow area of inquiry and maxi ethnography is used to describe a broader, classical study (Leininger, 1985). The term focused ethnography is used to describe the topic oriented, small group ethnographies found in the nursing literature (Clifford & Marcus, 1986; Hannerz, 2003; Morse, 1991).

Cross-sectional Ethnography: Cross sectional ethnography is holistic in nature. Authors like Agar (1996) and Spradley (1970) have used cross-sectional to study the culture of tramps; he wanted to study them since they possess an integrated culture with a well-developed terminology. The trend toward applied anthropology and the use of ethnography in other disciplines, cross sectional designs of increasing sophistication undoubtedly will become more common.

Ethnohistorical Ethnography: Ethnography is usually written in present tense. Writing in present tense ensures that all the events described by the ethnographer have taken place at the same time. Ethnographers can follow two types of description namely synchronic and ethnohistorical (Danzig, 1985; Denzin, 2003; Van Maanen, 2011; Werner & Schoepfle, 1987). Ethnohistorical descriptions refers to the description of the cultural reality of the present as the historical result of events in the past.

Focused Ethnography: Focused ethnography is a useful research methodology that has been extensively used in investigating specific fields in contemporary society which is culturally and socially highly differentiated and fragmented (Knoblauch, 2005; Rampton, 2006; Snow, Morrill & Anderson, 2003). It is mainly useful in eliciting information on shared experience (Crang & Cook, 2007; O'reilly, 2012; Richards & Morse, 2007). Ethnographers target shared features of individuals in groups, so that they can focus on general behaviors and experiences of the individuals (Richards & Morse, 2007). According to Nicolini (2012) and Roper and Shapira (2000), focused ethnography allows the researcher to better understand the complexities surrounding issues from the participants’ perspectives (i. e. emic view) while bringing the outsider’s framework to the study (i. e. etic view). The main features of focused ethnographies as identified by Muecke (1994) are:

  • It is context-specific.
  • It focuses on a distinct community.
  • Theoretical point of reference of a single researcher.
  • Involvement of a limited number of participants.
  • Episodic participation observation.
  • Participants usually hold explicit acquaintance.
  • Used in development in healthcare services and academia.

In addition, focused ethnographies are inclined to have pre-selected theme of enquiry, they use themes that are extremely prearranged around the issues and limit to participant observation (Higginbottom, 2011; Fairhead, Leach, & Scoones, 2012; Falzon, 2016). Since the researcher focuses on an explicit issue which have been experienced by individuals who need not necessarily reside in the same locality, it may not be necessary for ethnographers to engage in the fieldwork which are routine in conventional ethnography. According to Knoblauch (2005) focused ethnographies make effective use of video recordings and have subsequent data sessions wherein the collected data is discussed and opinions of other perspectives in groups, including the researcher and other informed individuals are taken.

10 October 2020
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