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Encyclopedia > Ethnography

Ethnography (ἔθνος ethnos = people and γράφειν graphein = writing) is the genre of writing that presents varying degrees of qualitative and quantitative descriptions of human social phenomena, based on fieldwork. Ethnography presents the results of a holistic research method founded on the idea that a system's properties cannot necessarily be accurately understood independently of each other. The genre has both formal and historical connections to travel writing and colonial office reports. Several academic traditions, in particular the constructivist and relativist paradigms, employ ethnographic research as a crucial research method. Many cultural anthropologists consider ethnography the essence of the discipline. Qualitative research is one of the two major approaches to research methodology in social sciences. ... Quantitative research is the systematic scientific investigation of quantitative properties and phenomena and their relationships. ... Fieldwork refers to scientific activity conducted in the field, outside the laboratory, of subject matter in an as-found state, by anthropologists, geologists, botanists, archaeologists or others who study the natural or human world. ... Whole redirects here. ... Travel writing is a literary genre related to the essay and to the guidebook. ... In education, constructivism is a learning theory which holds that knowledge is not transmitted unchanged from teacher to student, but instead that learning is an active process of learning. ... For the physics theory with a similar name, see Theory of Relativity. ...


Cultural and social anthropology

Cultural anthropology and social anthropology were developed around ethnographic research and their canonical texts are mostly ethnographies: e.g. Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922) by Bronisław Malinowski, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) by Margaret Mead, The Nuer (1940) by E. E. Evans-Pritchard, or Naven (1958) by Gregory Bateson. Cultural & social anthropologists today place such a high value on actually doing ethnographic research that ethnology—the comparative synthesis of ethnographic information—is rarely the foundation for a career. Within cultural anthropology, there are several sub-genres of ethnography. Beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s, anthropologists began writing "confessional" ethnographies that intentionally exposed the nature of ethnographic research. Famous examples include Tristes Tropiques by Claude Lévi-Strauss, The High Valley by Kenneth Read, and The Savage and the Innocent by David Maybury-Lewis, as well as the mildly fictionalized Return to Laughter by Elenore Smith Bowen (Laura Bohannan). Later "reflexive" ethnographies refined the technique to translate cultural differences by representing their effects on the ethnographer. Famous examples include "Deep Play: Notes on a Balinese Cockfight" by Clifford Geertz, Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco by Paul Rabinow, The Headman and I by Jean-Paul Dumont, and Tuhami by Vincent Crapanzano. In the 1980s, the rhetoric of ethnography was subjected to intense scrutiny within the discipline, under the general influence of literary theory and post-colonial/post-structuralist thought. "Experimental" ethnographies that reveal the ferment of the discipline include Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man by Michael Taussig, Debating Muslims by Michael F. J. Fischer and Mehdi Abedi, A Space on the Side of the Road by Kathleen Stewart, and Advocacy after Bhopal by Kim Fortun. This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... BronisÅ‚aw Kasper Malinowski (April 7, 1884 – May 16, 1942) was a Polish anthropologist widely considered to be one of the most important anthropologists of the twentieth century because of his pioneering work on ethnographic fieldwork, the study of reciprocity, and his detailed contribution to the study of Melanesia. ... Coming of Age in Samoa, first published in 1928, is a book by Margaret Mead based upon the youth in Samoa and lightly relating to youth in America. ... Margaret Mead (December 16, 1901, Philadelphia – November 15, 1978, New York City) was an American cultural anthropologist. ... The Nuer are a confederation of tribes located in Southern Sudan and western Ethiopia. ... Sir Edward Evan (E. E.) Evans-Pritchard (September 21, 1902 – September 11, 1973) was a British anthropologist instrumental in the development of social anthropology in that country. ... Gregory Bateson (9 May 1904–4 July 1980) was a British anthropologist, social scientist, linguist and cyberneticist whose work intersected that of many other fields. ... Ethnology (from the Greek ethnos, meaning people) is the branch of anthropology that compares and analyses the origins, distribution, technology, religion, language, and social structure of the racial or national divisions of humanity. ... This article is about the anthropologist. ... David Henry Peter Maybury-Lewis (born in Hyderabad, Pakistan 1929-) is a distinguished anthropologist, prominent ethnologist of lowland South America, indefatigable activist for indigenous peoples human rights and professor emeritus of Harvard University. ... This article or section does not cite any references or sources. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... Postcolonial theory is a literary theory or critical approach that deals with literature produced in countries that were once, or are now, colonies of other countries. ... Post-structuralism is a body of work that followed in the wake of structuralism, and sought to understand the Western world as a network of structures, as in structuralism, but in which such structures are ordered primarily by local, shifting differences (as in deconstruction) rather than grand binary oppositions and... Please wikify (format) this article or section as suggested in the Guide to layout and the Manual of Style. ...

Cultural anthropologists, such as Clifford Geertz and Xavier Andrade, study and interpret cultural diversity through ethnography based on field work. It provides an account of a particular culture, society, or community. The fieldwork usually involves spending a year or more in another society, living with the local people and learning about their ways of life. Ethnographers are participant observers. They take part in events they study because it helps with understanding local behavior and thought. This article or section does not cite any references or sources. ...

Other related fields

Psychology, economics, sociology and cultural studies also produce ethnography. Urban sociology and the Chicago School in particular are associated with ethnographic research, although some of the most well-known examples (including Street Corner Society by William Foote Whyte and Black Metropolis by St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Caton) were influenced by an anthropologist, Lloyd Warner, who happened to be in the sociology department at Chicago, and by sociologist Robert Park whose earlier career had included journalism. Symbolic interactionism developed from the same tradition and yielded several excellent sociological ethnographies, including Shared Fantasy by Gary Alan Fine, which documents the early history of fantasy role-playing games. But even though many sub-fields and theoretical perspectives within sociology use ethnographic methods, ethnography is not the sine qua non of the discipline, as it is in cultural anthropology. Sociology (from Latin: socius, companion; and the suffix -ology, the study of, from Greek λόγος, lógos, knowledge) is an academic and applied discipline that studies society and human social interaction. ... This article needs additional references or sources for verification. ... Urban sociology is the sociological study of the various statistics among the population in cities. ... In sociology and, later, criminology, the Chicago School (sometimes described as the Ecological School) refers to the first major body of works emerging during the 1920s and 1930s specialising in urban sociology, and the research into the urban environment by combining theory and ethnographic fieldwork in Chicago, now applied elsewhere. ... Street Corner Society is a famous descriptive case study written by William Foote Whyte and published in 1943. ... William Foote Whyte (June 27, 1914 - July 16, 2000) was a prominent sociologist chiefly known for his ethnological study in urban sociology, Street Corner Society. ... William Lloyd Warner (b. ... Symbolic interactionism is a sociological perspective which examines how individuals and groups interact, focusing on the creation of personal identity through interaction with others. ... Gary Alan Fine Gary Alan Fine (born May 11, 1950 in New York City) is an American sociologist and author. ... This article is about traditional role-playing games. ... Sine qua non or condicio sine qua non was originally a Latin legal term for without which it could not be (but for). It refers to an indispensable and essential action, condition, or ingredient. ...

Education, Ethnomusicology, Performance Studies, Folklore, and Linguistics are others fields which have made extensive use of ethnography. The American anthropologist George Spindler (Stanford University) was a pioneer in applying ethnographic methodology to the classroom. James Spradley is another well-known ethnographer, especially for his book, The Ethnographic Interview, published in 1979. Ethnomusicology (from the Greek ethnos = nation and mousike = music), formerly comparative musicology, is the study of music in its cultural context, cultural musicology. ... Performance studies is a growing field of academic study focusing on the critical analysis of performance and performativity. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Linguistics is the scientific study of language, which can be theoretical or applied. ... “Stanford” redirects here. ... This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ...

Ethnographic methods have been used to study business settings. Groups of workers, managers and so on are different social categories participating in common social systems. Each group shows different characteristic attitudes, behavior patterns and values.

Anthropologists like Daniel Miller and Mary Douglas have used ethnographic data to answer academic questions about consumers and consumption. Businesses, too, have found ethnographers helpful for understanding how people use products and services, as indicated in the increasing use of ethnographic methods to understand consumers and consumption, or for new product development (sometimes called 'design ethnography'). The recent Ethnographic Praxis in Industry (EPIC) conference is evidence of this. Ethnographers' systematic and holistic approach to real-life experience is valued by product developers, who use the method to understand unstated desires or cultural practices that surround products. Where focus groups fail to inform marketers about what people really do, ethnography links what people say to what they actually do—avoiding the pitfalls that come from relying only on self-reported, focus-group data. Daniel Miller (1954-) is an anthropologist most closely associated with studies in material culture and consumption. ... Dame Mary Douglas, DBE, (born March 25, 1921 - died 16 May 2007) was a British anthropologist, known for her writings on human culture and symbolism. ...


  1. Direct, first-hand observation of daily behavior. This can include participant observation.
  2. Conversation with different levels of formality. This can involve small talk to long interviews.
  3. The genealogical method. This is a set of procedures by which ethnographers discover and record connections of kinship, descent and marriage using diagrams and symbols.
  4. Detailed work with key consultants about particular areas of community life.
  5. In-depth interviewing.
  6. Discovery of local beliefs and perceptions.
  7. Problem-oriented research.
  8. Longitudinal research. This is continuous long-term study of an area or site.
  9. Team research.
  10. Case studies

Not all of these techniques are used by ethnographers, but interviews and participant observation are the most widely used. Case studies involve a particular method of research. ...

See also

Critical ethnography builds upon conventional ethnography. ... The Ethnography of communication (EOC) is the a method of discourse analysis in linguistics, which draws on the anthropological field of ethnography. ... Within the field of anthropology and other social sciences, ethnography is a genre of writing used to describe human social and cultural interactions. ... Virtual ethnography is a new development in the field of Ethnography. ...


  • Agar, Michael (1996) The Professional Stranger: An Informal Introduction to Ethnography. Academic Press.
  • Douglas, Mary and Baron Isherwood (1996) The World of Goods: Toward and Anthropology of Consumption. Routledge, London.
  • Erickson, Ken C. and Donald D. Stull (1997) Doing Team Ethnography : Warnings and Advice. Sage, Beverly Hills.
  • Hymes, Dell. (1974). Foundations in sociolinguistics: An ethnographic approach. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Kottak, Conrad Phillip (2005) Window on Humanity : A Concise Introduction to General Anthropology, (pages 2-3, 16-17, 34-44). McGraw Hill, New York.
  • Miller, Daniel (1987) Material Culture and Mass Consumption. Blackwell, London.
  • Spradley, James P. (1979) The Ethnographic Interview. Wadsworth Group/Thomson Learning.

Notable Ethnographers

  • Alexey Okladnikov
  • Zalpa Bersanova
  • Nikolai Nadezhdin
  • Sergey Oldenburg
  • José Leite de Vasconcelos

Alexey Pavlovich Okladnikov (Russian: Алексей Павлович Окладников) (1908-1981), was an archeologist, historian, and ethnographer, member of the USSR Academy of Sciences since 1968, a Hero of Socialist... Zalpa Khozh-Akhmedovna Bersanova (Chechen: Залпа Хож-Ахмедовна Берсанова) is a Chechen ethnographer and author who has written extensively on the Chechen people and the Chechen wars. ... Nikolai Nadezhdin (1804 - 1856)was a Russian intellectual active in the nineteenth century who is noted as being Russias first ethnographer. ... Sergey Fyodorovich Oldenburg (Russian: ; 26 September 1863 near Nerchinsk - 28 February 1934, Leningrad) was a Russian orientalist who specialized in Buddhist studies. ... José Leite de Vasconcelos Cardoso Pereira de Melo, (1858-1941), was a Portuguese ethnographer and prolific author who wrote extensively on Portuguese philology and prehistory. ...

External links

  • Genzuk, Michael (2003) A Synthesis of Ethnographic Research
  • Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History - Over 160,000 objects from Pacific, North American, African, Asian ethnographic collections with images and detailed description, linked to the original catalogue pages, field notebooks, and photographs are available online.
  • Ethnography.com A community based Ethnography website for academic and professional ethnographers and interested parties
  • Digital Ethnography A published article in a Chicago newspaper discussing KSU Professor Michael Wesch's term Digital Ethnography
  • University of Pennsylvania's "What is Ethnography?" Penn's Public Interest Anthropology Web Site

  Results from FactBites:
Ethnography (1066 words)
According to the dictionary of anthropology, ethnography is the systematic description of the single contemporary culture often through fieldwork.
James Clifford insists that ethnography is essentially a form of writing and should be approached from the point of view of its textuality.
Ethnography and anthropology are also now moving towards a reassessment of the discipline by looking at the culture closer at hand now.
Visions - Special Section: Ethnography in NPD Research How "applied ethnography" can improve your NPD research process (1405 words)
Ethnography comprises a very in-depth form of qualitative research, which is also referred to as ethnographic field work.
Applied ethnography may be defined as ethnographic field work done to bring the consumer's or customer's point of view to the design and development of a new product.
Applied ethnography is the best way to discover the difference between what people say they do and what they really do in their daily lives.
  More results at FactBites »



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