What is an Ethnography?
Before we jump on to learning how to write an ethnography, it would be wise to get an understanding of the concept of ethnography. The term Ethnography is Greek in origin. It is a combination of two words ethnos and grapho meaning people and to write respectively.
Definition of Ethnography
Ethnography can be defined as,
“A branch of cultural anthropology, which follows a systematic approach of learning the life of ethnic group of inhabitants, their culture and beliefs and their community where they live. A person who studies ethnography is called an ethnographer”.
“Ethnography is a scientific research strategy often used in the field of social sciences, particularly in anthropology and in some branches of sociology, also known as part of historical science that studies people, ethnic groups and other ethnic formations, their ethno genesis, composition, resettlement, social welfare characteristics, as well as their material and spiritual culture. It is often employed for gathering empirical data on human societies and cultures”.
Role of an Ethnographer or Ethnologist
An ethnographer is a researcher who is required to live with the members of a community for a few weeks or months as a part of his study. He has to scrutinize and observe the behavior, attitudes and lifestyle of the folks in depth and talk to informants of that community. He/she then has to summarize his observations and findings in the form of a report called ethnography.
Ethnography in Cultural Anthropology
Cultural ethnography is a term related to the study and analysis of various cultural trends in human societies and behaviors involving concepts like ethnocentrism and cultural relativism. Modern cultural anthropology has its development originating from the concept of 19th century "ethnology". Modern cultural anthropology specifically focuses the comparative analysis of human societies. The concept was vastly propagated by famous scholars like E.B. Tylor and J.G. Frazer.
Types of Ethnography
Ethnography can either be descriptive or interpretive and inclusive of the community rituals, daily life and social phenomena. Ethnography builds a complete understanding of the people practicing a common culture and their day to day life.
Ethnographies can be broadly categorized as follows:
- Cultural Ethnography
- Ethnography Research Paper
- Ethnography Essay
- Case Study
- Content Analysis
- Research Reports
Step by Step Guide to Construct an Ethnography for Students
This simple and thorough guide will form your foundation for writing an ethnography.
Questionnaire Formation: Doing Research for Ethnography
Once you are physically present in the community or society under investigation, you need to design a questionnaire. Through this questionnaire you need to ask a series of questions from the leaders and specific people of that community centering on how they perceive their culture and lifestyle. Questionnaires make the groundwork for most anthropological studies.
Research for a questionnaire should be based on your personal and theoretical observations. This would help you in drafting real time questions leading to viable conclusion for your ethnography. Additionally, you can gain help from sample ethnographies for help and guidance.
Now that you have collected the data through questionnaire, you need to construct an introduction. The introduction must communicate two things to the readers:
- What are you studying?
- How are you studying it?
If you have succeeded in providing justified answer for these two points, the reader becomes clear that you are qualified for carrying out a cultural research. Include a brief background of the culture you intend to study as well as the areas you want to probe.
Explain the readers how you went about gathering information for your study. Support by giving reference to the conversations you had with the community folks and their response. You can also mention the difficulties and limitations you faced in collecting data.
Present a thorough analysis of the data collected through observation and questionnaire. You can also give a brief account of your personal opinions and experiences during the cultural study. A great idea would be to include your learning from the study.
Sum up your cultural research in the conclusion page while focusing on your methodology and learning. Restate the main points of your study. The ethnography must convince the reader that your findings have contributed a lot in the overall study of that community/culture.
Useful Tips for Writing an Ethnography Case Study or Research Paper
You will find the following tips useful while formulating an ethnography.
- Develop an accurate series of questions for obtaining information from the community people. Make sure that none of the questions contain stereotype opinions.
- Before interacting with the local people, seek guidance from an authorized member of the society. This will ease your job.
- Avoid manipulating the results of the actual research with your biased opinions.
- The methodology of your ethnography must address How, When, Where and Who.
- The analytical section has the most weight in an ethnography since it is where the ethnographer creates a bonding of findings with the r
Examples of Ethnography
- "Beyond Writing: Feminist Practice and the Limitations of Ethnography" (1994) by Elizabeth Enslin
- "These Are the Stories That the Dogs Tell’: Discourses of Identity and Difference in Ethnography and Science Fiction" (1996) by David Samuels
- "Preserving Indian Culture: Shaman Schools and Ethno-Education in the Vaupes, Colombia" (1995) by Jean Jackson