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Ethnographic Design: Types Essay

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Updated: Feb 4th, 2022

According to Holloway (2005, p. 172), ethnography research design “is driven by existing theory, new questions, lack of information, or a need for understanding, and it begins with broadly defined questions that are likely to change as the research progresses while responding to encounters and experiences in the field”. Investigators who conduct ethnographic studies visualize questions and answers as integrated elements in human thinking. Ethnographers know that potential questions are likely to arise at any stage of the ethnographic research process. Thus, ethnographic design “is a trade off between looseness and selectivity” (Holloway, 2005, p. 172). The use of ethnographic design continues to expand; nowadays, it is used to explore specific topics or embedded is large multi method designs.

Prior to entering the field of work, an investigator must choose the most appropriate method to access data sources so as to handle research aims and theoretical issues. However, this is partly determined by theoretical interests, opportunities for participation, and practical issues. Holloway (2005) argues that settings for conducting ethnographic studies significantly vary. Therefore, an investigator must take decisive measures when defining the breadth and depth of his or her ethnographic study. The decision taken will be partly influenced by ongoing encounters and the investigators initial interests. Holloway (2005) argues that sometimes an ethnographic study can be opportunistic in nature meaning it is driven by a certain phenomenon within a given setting. In ethnographic studies, Holloway (2005) highlights that an investigator is not interested in everything. On the contrary, he or selects cases to be studied either across or within the setting.

While designing an ethnographic study, an investigator must ensure that different situations and views are represented in the collected data. The investigator is required to define the characteristics of the society under study (Murchison, 2010). This should be followed by identifying the social problem affecting the society in question. This will equip the investigator with appropriate research questions. In addition, the investigator must understand how the society under study interprets its world. This includes documenting what the society does and why it does so. Such data is exceptionally essential when conducting an ethnographic study.

There are three main ethnographic designs. Realistic ethnographies fall in the first category. According to Abalos (2012, p.1), “realistic ethnography is an objective account of the situation, typically written in third person point of view, reporting objectively on the information learned from participants who took part in the study”. An investigator who employs his ethnographic design narrates the study in a third person dispassionate voice. The reporting focuses on the observations of the respondents and their views. The investigator gives the respondents’ views through carefully edited quotations. The investigator does have the final word on the interpretation and presentation of the culture under investigation but without including his or her personal views. Abalos (2012, p.1), argues that the investigator “reports objective data in a measurable style uncontained by personal bias, political goals, and judgment”. In his or her reporting, the reporter selects standard categories which he or she uses to describe the culture under study. Such categories may include family, religion, social life, social systems and statuses.

Case studies are the second type of ethnographic designs. Abalos (2012) argues that case studies are different from ethnography in a number of ways. However, they are a significant type of ethnographic investigations. For example, an investigator who employs case study ethnography may concentrate on a program, event, or activity that involves individuals rather than groups. When an investigator uses this type of design, he or she begins by searching for shared patterns in the group of interest (Murchison, 2010).

Critical ethnographies fall in the third category. Abalos (2012, p.1), argues that “critical ethnographic studies are a type of ethnographic research in which the author is interested in advocating for the emancipation of groups marginalized in the society”. Investigators who employ this ethnographic design usually have political reasons; they endeavor to condemn dominance and prejudice through research. Investigators who employ critical ethnography tend to question the status quo. As such, they aim at bringing justice and fair play in the wider society. Such investigators use literal dialogue with the respondents under study. Through this approach, critical investigators act on behalf of the respondents and they aim at empowering those respondents to have more authority and say. Critical ethnography is commonly used when researchers conduct research with the aim of bringing political change. Ethnography, according to (Cresewell, 2011), is very essential in defining a social cultural problem. It is therefore important for researchers who employ ethnographic studies to design their studies in a manner that will enhance the chances of finding the solutions to the social cultural problems as defined by the research questions (Cresewell, 2011).

In summary, ethnography research design “is driven by existing theory, new questions, lack of information, or a need for understanding, and it begins with broadly defined questions that are likely to change as the research progresses while responding to encounters and experiences in the field” (Holloway, 2005, p. 172). Ethnographers know that potential questions are likely to arise at any stage of the ethnographic research process. Thus, ethnographic design “is a trade off between looseness and selectivity” (Holloway, 2005, p. 172). Investigators must take decisive measures when defining the breath and depth of their ethnographic study. The decision taken will be partly influenced by ongoing encounters and the investigators initial interests.

In addition, while designing an ethnographic study, an investigator must ensure that different situations and views are represented in the collected data. The investigator is required to define the characteristics of the society under study. There are three main ethnographic designs. The first type, realistic ethnography, refers to “an objective account of the situation, typically written in third person point of view, reporting objectively on the information learned from participants who took part in the study” (Abalos, 2012, p.1). An investigator who employs his ethnographic design narrates the study in a third person dispassionate voice. The second category is case study ethnography, and when an investigator uses this type of design, he or she begins by searching for shared patterns in the group under investigation. Critical ethnographies fall in the third category. Abalos (2012, p.1), argues that “critical ethnographic studies are a type of ethnographic research in which the author is interested in advocating for the emancipation of groups marginalized in the society”. Investigators who employ this ethnographic design usually have political reasons; they endeavor to condemn dominance and prejudice through research.

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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