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What Is Ethnography? – Studying Cultural Phenomena

What Is Ethnography? – Studying Cultural Phenomena
Melissa Hurst
Researchers use various methods to answer questions. Some questions cannot be answered through quantitative measures; they are best addressed through qualitative research methods, such as ethnography. This lesson will discuss the defining qualities, methods, and uses of ethnography.

Why Ethnography?

Why do some cultures expect their daughters to marry before the age of 15? How does a person’s specific family values impact the way he or she acts in public with friends? What are the origins of bullying in an all-male classroom?

These are complicated questions that cannot be answered through a simple survey or other quantitative research design method. These and similar questions are best answered through qualitative research methods of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting observed information. More specifically, these questions are best addressed through the use of ethnography. This lesson will define ethnography and describe the characteristics, step-by-step procedures used to complete ethnographies, and discuss how to assess ethnographies.

Ethnographies: Definition and Defining Qualities

Sociology Student: I really want to understand bullying and its origins among specific groups. I was reading an article the other day on same-gender classrooms and the bullying that goes on in all-male classrooms. I just don’t know how to research this topic.

Helpful Classmate: You should consider ethnography! Ethnography is a type of qualitative research design aimed at studying cultures and groups from a unique perspective – that of the subject. The word ethnographies literally means ‘writing about people groups.’ Ethnographies are holistic in nature and include a history of the culture being studied, their routines and practices, and discussion of their environment.

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Sociology Student: Oh, that sounds like a great approach. What else should I know about ethnographies?

Helpful Classmate: There are several defining qualities that are unique to ethnographies:

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The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

He is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, COOU, (formerly Anambra State University), Igbariam Campus.

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