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Ethnographic Research Methods Analytical Essay

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Updated: Mar 29th, 2019


The world is full of many complex things which are strenuous and hard to crack. It is difficult to explain how they function, how interrelated with one another they are and how they harmoniously coexist in the ecosystem without the slightest friction emanating from the interaction.

This necessitated the invention of tools and techniques that would be used by scholars to aid them in coming up with logical explanations that are expected to delusively dissect the complex societal processes that range from the socio-cultural to the social-economic processes.

Therefore, this study aims at identifying and explaining in details the concept of ethnography and the research methods that are applied in this area of study. This study will also seek to empower the readers with the necessary knowledge that will help them analyze and evaluate qualitative data captured from the research carried out.

Therefore, for this study to achieve this objective, it will attempt to conceptualize the ethnographic methods from studies that have previously been carried out in this field. In addition to this, the paper will define the term ethnography and also identify the main issues in ethnographic research methods.

The paper will also define participant observation and the pitfalls that have arisen from its application in carrying out research. It is from this thesis that the study is expected to architecture a conclusion that will exhaustively summarize the study.

Definition of Ethnography

Ethnography was first applied in anthropology where it was used to carry research studies that were expected to collect qualitative data. Therefore, ethnography can be defined as the qualitative method that is used to study the culture of a given social organization where the results are obtained through active participant observation or interviewing of the subjects under observation by the researcher.

Ethnography is expected to demystify cultural phenomena that characterize the society where knowledge and insights that give meaning to any particular community are studied, learnt and understood in depth by the researcher to discern the underlying fundamental factors that make the society keep on functioning (Ellen, 2001).

Main Issues in Ethnographic Research

The success of any scientific research is partly dependent on the researcher in which his or her ability to apply the research tools and techniques that are most applicable to that specific topic under evaluation as this will raise the credibility of the findings made by the researcher.

Therefore, this study conceives the desire to identify and explain the main tenets of ethnographic research with the objective of discerning that ethnography adheres to the canons of reliability in coming up with the results of any research carried out.

One of the major considerations in the study of ethnography is the issue of ethics. The majority of the ethical issues discussed in ethnographic research fall in five categories, which are informed consent, privacy, harm, exploitation, and the consequences that may arise in future research works.

The ethical issues that arise in ethnographic research should not act as pitfalls in social research studies, but they should be resolved satisfactorily so that effective and efficient research can be carried out (Hammersley & Atkinson, 2007).

Other major features in ethnography entails the selection and the sampling techniques that are employed in identifying which case should be studied, the problems that are encountered in carrying out the research, the identification of the data collection techniques that will be employed in the case being studied, the recording of the data collected and lastly, the data analysis techniques applied (Hammersley & Atkinson, 2007).

Participant Observation

Participant observation can be defined as a qualitative method in ethnology research that is used by researchers in the areas of cultural anthropology in which the researcher in given the opportunity to get a close familiarity with a given social group or community in which the researcher is expected to learn some of the practices that a particular group indulges in, through active participation of the researcher alongside the members of group (Watson, 2005).

In participant observation, the researcher gets the chance to mimic the day to day life of the people under review as he or she interacts with the study group in their daily activities. This method allows a researcher to obtain information that is free from biases as the problem associated with behavioral change that comes from the realization that someone is conducting an observation are eliminated.

It is has been noted that the period of ethnographic study that uses participant observation is relatively long. The researcher’s direct involvement with the community gives him or her absolute opportunity to know the diverse perspectives that underline the behavior and interaction criteria of any particular group and how this interplays among its members.

However, it should be noted that the researcher has the opportunity to either observe the community alone or by actively participating in the activities and making the research observations in the process.

This research method is unique because the researcher is able to place him or herself in the community setting and thus the data collected is firsthand and unprecedented. This makes this research method distinct as it approaches the group under review directly in its environment.

This negates the traditional research methods where the group that is being researched on is the one that comes to the researcher. It is from this community setting that researchers are in a position to make careful, precise, calculated and objective notes from the community practices as they see them happening as they are part and parcel of the observed community.

The researcher has the opportunity to recording the group’s activities in the field research notebook as they happen.

Therefore, it is evident that participant observation as a research method is a milestone ahead of others in uncovering very crucial factors in the society with regard to issues such as interaction between the researcher and the participant. These provide the researchers with a thorough understanding of the problem at hand prior to the initiation of the research study (Ellen, 2001).

Disadvantages of Participation Observation

Despite the efficiency and effectiveness of participant observation to bring to light some of the mysterious practices of the society, the method has a number of drawbacks that have tainted its application in the carrying of research studies in ethnography. One of the major drawbacks of participant observation is the fact that it is time-consuming.

Basing our argument from various past studies, it is evident that most of the research studies that have been conducted using this method have taken more than one year. This drawback makes participant observation practically inapplicable in majority of research studies that require short data collection periods.

In order to mitigate these drawbacks, other measures that may shorten the overall project duration may be adopted. One of the major steps that have been applied to mitigate this problem is using native researchers to study the community as they have a solid understanding of community practices, thus they do not need time to familiarize themselves with community practices (Watson, 2005).

Another drawback that emanates from participant observation is the difficulty of accounting and documenting the data collected. This is because it is very difficult for any researcher to document all crucial data for the study while at the same time, fully concentrate, actively participate and make observations of the activities taking place in the group under review.

More so, an effective research depends on the memory as well as the intra and inter-personal discipline of the researcher. This over-necessitates the importance of having a superficially diligent researcher (Antonius, Robben & Sluka, 2007).

Styles of Field Work

The style of field research refers to the research facet that focuses on the behavior of certain members of a particular society (Ellen, 2001). This is in contrast to ethnography that is involved with identifying and uncovering the practices of a particular group and consequently, attempting to bring out the underlying meaning that is attached to a particular behavior.

The fieldwork style employed by the researcher depends on four factors which are physical, cultural, linguistics and archeology. The cultural factor employs attempts to identify all the aspects of human life that are learnt over a lifetime.

Here, research studies have attempted to demystify how the different groups that exist in the society are in control of all the activities that take place in that society and how duties and responsibilities are delegated harmoniously among the community members.

Physical factors in style of field concentrate on the study of how humans have evolved over time and how they have continuously become sophisticated in their ways of doing things among other factors. It has attempted to discern how human evolution has been influenced by the environmental and cultural factors.

The archeological factor entails the study of the things that have been invented, created and improved by humans over the years. The linguistic factor is concerned with demystifying the factors that influenced the formation and evolution of the languages spoken by different races and tribes of the world.

Also, within the scope of the linguistic factors is discerning how the language and culture of a particular people in the universe have interrelated with the languages and the cultures of other people over the years (Watson, 2005).

Relationship of Fieldwork Style to Theory and Problem

This study attempts to come up with an elaborate analysis that is meant to explain the relationship that exists between the fieldwork styles and theories and how this relationship has contributed to theoretical development. It is evident that fieldwork style has played part in the development and formation of the best theories that are expected to fit practical activities of the group that is being studied.

Thus, fieldwork style is very crucial in the formation of the theory that tightly aligns to the topic under investigation. The relationship is embedded on a three phase approach that entails theory selectivity, theoretical integration and creation of the theory itself.

These three phases are fundamental in carrying out ethnographic research because they enhance problem clarification and theoretical congruence as articulated in the fieldwork style employed by the researcher (Antonius, Robben & Sluka, 2007).

Theory selectivity stresses on concept definition in which the researcher is expected to outline the problem at hand in clearly so that they can choose the best theory that to be used. On the other hand, theoretical integration works on forming a bridge in which the problem under research is harmoniously linked with the theory that was identified in the theory selection phase.

This phase ensures that it critically evaluates the problem based on the fieldwork styles that were employed to ensure the theory applied fully solves the problem under investigation. Lastly, the creation of the theory phase identifies all the factors that influence the study and from this the research findings are documented (Antonius, Robben & Sluka, 2007).


Ethnographic research has played a very crucial part in the study of the social, cultural and physical aspects of the communities in their own setting where the finding of the research have tremendously increased the insights that are held by social scientists on the behaviors that characterize certain communities in the world.

It has opened a number of avenues in social research in which things or practices that seemed obvious in the society can be studied and in-depth knowledge acquired.


Therefore, it is prudent to conclude that ethnography has become the tool in which this mysterious aspect of the society can be expressed in a more powerful, vivid and relevant manner so as to align the exact behaviors of the members of the society and the perceptions that are held by outsiders with accurate scientific findings.


Antonius, C. G., Robben, M., & Sluka, J. A. (2007). Ethnographic fieldwork: an anthropological reader. San Francisco : Wiley-Blackwell.

Ellen, R. F. (2001). Ethnographic research: a guide to general conduct. Chicago: Academic Press.

Hamersley, M., & Atkinson, P. (2007). Ethnography: principles in practice. London: Taylor & Francis.

Watson, C. W. (2005). Being there: fieldwork in anthropology. New York: Pluto Press.

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