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Ethnographic Design: Characteristics Essay

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Updated: Feb 4th, 2022

According to Abalos (2012, p.1), “ethnography is the in depth study of naturally occurring behavior within a culture or a social group; it seeks to understand the relationship between culture and behavior, with culture referring to beliefs, values and attitudes, of a specific group of people”. This type of research was invented by anthropologists. Anthropologists endeavor to understand human behavior through the use of ethnographic studies. Anthropology is a diverse field that aims at describing human behavior and as a result, it requires anthropologists to be part of the society they are studying so as to gain an in depth understanding. This is achieved only when anthropologists use in depth interviews and observations. Ethnographic studies resemble grounded theory research methods in one way, in that the investigator is not supposed to have a predefined hypothesis. This prevents the investigator from predetermining what is observed or the feedback from the respondents. Actually, the investigator comes up with hypotheses in the process of the study.

Proponents of ethnography argue that in order for such studies to produce outstanding results, they should have extended participant observation (Cresewell, 2011). As such, ethnographers are required to spend enough time at the site of study so as to capture as many facts as possible. During their stay at the site of study, ethnographers are required to gather facts from materials such as artifacts. They should record their observations on tape or have audio recordings of interviews conducted (Cresewell, 2011). Generally, ethnographers collect data not only from observations and interviews, but also from life stories and research diaries. Furthermore, ethnographers should have openness and avoid having predetermined hypotheses. Ethnographic studies are unique in the sense that they focus on social cultural interpretation; the data collected is interpreted in social cultural terms (Cresewell, 2011).

According to Abalos (2012, p.1), “ethnographic designs are qualitative research procedures for describing, analyzing, and interpreting shared patterns of behavior, beliefs, and language that develop over time within the society under study”. In order to achieve this goal, the investigator, also known as the ethnographer, must spend enough time in the field and gather relevant information about the society under investigation. This involves understanding the society’s culture, language, and beliefs. While crafting an ethnographic study, an investigator should follow a certain sequence, according to Murchison (2010). This begins with the selection of an ethnographic project. The extent of the study varies depending on the objectives of the study. For example, one study might focus on the whole society in a selected region, while another one may concentrate only on a single social situation or institution. The focus of the study thus influences the time frame for conducting an ethnographic study. Experts recommend that ethnographers should focus on a single social situation rather than the whole society since this will give them the flexibility they require to conduct the study. Secondly, the investigator needs to synthesize questions that will guide him or her during the study. Since this methodology prohibits the notion of having predetermined hypotheses, the ethnographer must select proper questions that will guide him or her during the whole process.

Once the investigator has decided on the type of questions he or she thinks are going to provide good guidance, he or she should then embark on the process of ethnographic data collection. The process of data collection begins with general observation. As such, the investigator observes the general activities of the people and the physical situation of the area of study. After having a general observation, the investigator focuses on specific aspects depending on the objective of the study. This is where detailed data collection takes center stage. It is important for the ethnographer to make ethnographic records during data collection (Murchison, 2010). This includes video and audio records. In the next step, the investigator is required to analyze the ethnographic data collected. During data analysis, the ethnographer comes up with new questions and hypotheses. The new questions form the basis for the more investigations and data collection (Murchison, 2010). This cycle continues until the investigator is satisfied that his or her questions have been answered. The last part involves writing the ethnography. The main purpose of writing the ethnography is to highlight to the outside world the culture or way of life of the group that was under investigation.

Ethnographic designs have several key characteristics. First, ethnographic studies often focus on cultural themes. This means that ethnographers study specific cultural themes with the aim of highlighting to the outside world their findings. According to Abalos (2012, p.1), “a cultural theme in ethnography, is a general position, declared or implied, that is openly approved or promoted in society or group. Unlike other qualitative studies, cultural themes enable ethnographers to interpret their findings in cultural terms. Second, ethnographic studies identify a culture sharing group. This means that whatever is being investigated must be done communally; it should be a societal endeavor. This is particularly different from other qualitative studies which focus on individuals rather than the society. Abalos (2012, p.1) argues that “a culture-sharing group in ethnography refers to two or more individuals who have shared beliefs, behaviors, and language”.

Third, Ethnographic studies involve the analysis of shared patterns such as beliefs, behavior and language (Holloway, 2005). In order to qualify as shared patterns, the phenomena under study must have been acquired over time and should have certain rules that guide them. Fourth, ethnographic studies involve field work. Ethnographers must go into the field and collect data either through observation, interviews, and keep video and audio recordings of the same. Field of work may involve places such as the site where people play, live, or work. This may also include important cultural functions and festivals. This enables the researcher to collect first hand information. Fifth, ethnographic studies often conclude with an ethnographic writing whereby the investigator documents his or her findings to the rest of the world. Investigators are however advised to write their reports reflexively. Reflexivity, according to Abalos (2012, p.1), “refers to the searcher being aware of an openly discussing his or her role in the study in a way that honors and respects the site and participants”.

In conclusion, this paper has noted that “ethnography is the in depth study of naturally occurring behavior within a culture or a social group; it seeks to understand the relationship between culture and behavior, with culture referring to beliefs, values and attitudes, of a specific group of people” (Abalos, 2012, p.1). This type of research was invented by anthropologists. Anthropologists endeavor to understand human behavior through the use of ethnographic studies. Ethnographic studies resemble grounded theory research methods in one way, in that the investigator is not supposed to have a predefined hypothesis. Ethnographic studies are unique in the sense that they focus on social cultural interpretation; the data collected is interpreted in social cultural terms.

References

Abalos, L. (2012). Ethnographic Study. Web.

Cresewell, J. (2011). Educational Research: Planning, Conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. New York: Pearson.

Holloway, I. (2005). Qualitative Research In Health Care. New York: McGraw-Hill International.

Murchison, J. (2010). Ethnography Essentials: Designing, Conducting, and Presenting Your Research. California: John Wiley & Sons.

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