Ethnography and Ethnographic
Angie Castillo, Michelle Gorospe,
Meg Gregory, Christie Hartmann
and Matt LeVan
is it?
Where did it come
Definitions of Ethnography - 1
“the name of the attempt to reconstruct the
history of culture” (25).
A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, Anthropologist
Radcliffe-Brown, A.R. Method in Social Anthropology. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1958.
Photo from
Definitions of Ethnography - 2
“The modern concept of ethnography is ‘getting
out among the subjects of enquiry’ in such a
way that their perspective is engaged” (49).
- Professor Lee Harvey
Harvey, Lee. Myths of the Chicago School of Sociology. Brookfield: Avebury, 1987.
Photo source:
Definitions of Ethnography - 3
“The exclusive and immediate goal of
ethnography, as of all social research, is to
produce knowledge” (15).
- Professor Martyn Hammersley
Hammersley, Martyn. “Ethnography and the disputes over validity.” Debates and Developments in
Ethnographic Methodology. Ed. Geoffrey Walford 6 (2002): 7-22.
Photo source:
Definitions of Ethnography - 4
“As a noun, it means a description of a culture,
or a piece of culture.
As a verb (doing ethnography), it means the
collection of data that describe a culture” (1617).
H. Russell Bernard, Ph.D.
Cultural anthropologist
Bernard, H. R. Research Methods in Anthropology. Thousand Oaks: Sage Pub, 2004.
Photo source:
Phenomenology: the early roots of
Edmund Husserl (18591938) developed the
philosophical ideal
called “phenomenology”
Finding meaning through
human experience
“Good ethnography…is
usually good
(Bernard 15).
The Chicago School
The Chicago School
Participant observation
Case Studies
Qualitative vs. Quantitative
Case study
Participant observation
Sense making
Data analysis
Where we are now…
 Traditionally qualitative methods, such as case studies, are
being re-designed with quantitative elements.
 New methods that integrate both quantitative and qualitative
techniques, such as grounded theory, have been developed
 Ethnographic Research Methods are implemented not only
in academic settings, but also in commercial enterprise
Bernard, H. R. Research Methods in Anthropology. Thousand Oaks: Sage Pub, 2004.
Hammersley, Martyn. “Ethnography and the disputes over validity.” Debates and Developments in
Ethnographic Methodology. Ed. Geoffrey Walford 6 (2002): 7-22.
Harvey, Lee. Myths of the Chicago School of Sociology. Brookfield: Avebury, 1987.
Radcliffe-Brown, A.R. Method in Social Anthropology. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1958.
Rosenthal, Robert and Ralph L. Rosnow. Essentials of Behavioral Research: methods and analysis. 3rd ed. New
York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.
Weingand, Darlene E. "Grounded Theory and Qualitative Methodology," IFLA Journal 19 (1993): 17- 26.
White, Marilyn D. and Emily E. Marsh "Content Analysis: A Flexible Methodology," Library Trends 55:1
(Summer 2006): 22-45.
Yin, Robert K. "The Case Study as a Serious Research Strategy," Knowledge, Creation, diffusion, Utilization
3:1 (Sept. 1981): 97-114.
Ethnography: Research Methods
“A research method located in the practice of
both sociologists and anthropologists, and
which should be regarded as the product of a
cocktail of methodologies that share the
assumption that personal engagement with the
subject is the key to understanding a particular
culture or social setting.”
The SAGE Dictionary of Social Research Methods (2006)
Research Perspectives
Emic vs. Etic
Macro vs. Micro
Covert vs. overt
Common Methods
•Field research
•Participant observation
•Case studies
•Focus groups
Field Research
Theory of field research
Grounded Theory
Most commonly participant observation.
Participant Observation
“Participant observation combines participation in the
lives of the people under study with the maintenance of a
professional distance that allows adequate observation
and recording of data (Fetterman 45).”
Participant observation - complete participant
Complete participant
Observer is wholly concealed and the research objectives are
unknown to the group that is being observed.
Observer goal is to become a member of group under
While this method gives the observer greater insight into the
observed group, it also poses several methodological
Participant observation: participant-as-observer
being observed is informed of research agenda
–Researcher still attempts to become member of
observed group
–More ethically sound than complete participation
Case Studies: exploratory, explanatory and
In-depth analysis of an individual or a group of people
with shared characteristics.
Often includes personal accounts directly from the
Draws conclusions only about that participant or group
and only in that specific context.
Research emphasis is placed on exploration and
Focus Groups
Concentrated group exploration and discussions.
What can be gained from the focus group method?
Method is qualitative but the information gathered can
be quantitative.
Agar, Michael H. The Professional Stranger: An Informal Introduction to
Ethnography. Academic Press, 1980.
Berg, Bruce L. Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. 4th ed.
Allyn & Bacon.
Fetterman, David M. Ethnography: Step by Step. SAGE Publications, 1989.
Franklin, Billy J. Research Methods: Issues and Insights. Wadsworth
Publishing Company, 1971.
Rosenthal, Robert and Ralph L. Rosnow. Essentials of Behavioral Research:
methods and analysis. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.
In Ethnographic Research
In Ethnographic Research
Qualitative information must be:
Errors and mistakes can occur at any stage.
(Rosenthal 127)
Fieldwork often time consuming (and therefore can be expensive)
Data collecting can last months or even years.
For example,
Margaret Mead’s spent a year in Samoa conducting research for
her famous work, Coming of Age in Samoa
(Rosenthal 124)
Some ethnographic methods can be costly
The Focus Group
 “a group discussion that concentrates on particular issues or a
basic question or problem”
 Discussion guided by a moderator who is compensated
 Participants may be compensated
(Rosenthal 167)
Loss of Privacy
Observation can cause informants to feel self-conscious and/or to
act unnaturally
Informants can be sensitive to their perceived loss of privacy; can
become “increasingly selective” in cooperating with researchers.
(Rosenthal 125)
“maximize credibility and not sacrifice flexibility”
Journals editors require detailed descriptions of procedures used in data collection
Much preparation, research required into culture to be observed in order to prevent
reliance on stereotypes
“Courting serendipity: planned insights married to unplanned events ”
Rosenthal 126)
The right place at the right time
(Fine and Deegan, qt in
Flexible/Credible cont.
Fieldwork journal, ethnographer’s diary of observations, mistakes,
experiences, problems etc., including P.O.’s personal reactions (Spradley, 1980, qt.
in Rosenthal 127)
P.O.’s can work in teams, imposing “checks and balances” to try to
control for observation and interpretation biases
Use of audio/video recordings
(Rosenthal 125-7)
Noninteractional Artifacts
“Systematic errors that operate…in the mind, in the eye, or in the
hand of the scientist but are not due to uncontrolled variables that
might interact with the subjects’ behavior.” Rosenthal, 1966 (qt. in Rosenthal 128)
Clever Hans
Hawthorne Effect
Clever Hans - Super Horse!
Clever Hans - a horse whose owner claimed it was capable of intellectual
reasoning, i.e. tapping out answers to simple math problems
German psychologist, Oskar Pfungst devised a series of experiments to
test the horse’s capabilities
Discovered Clever Hans was responding to questioners’ unintentional
subtle clues such as body language, i.e. leaning in and squaring up
(Rosenthal 217)
Hawthorne Effect
“Human subjects behave in special ways because they know they are
subjects of an investigation”
Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Co. Cicero, Illinois
Different conditions (dimmed lights, increased rest periods) did not decrease
production, actually increased it
“Motivated to increase their output because of their special status as research
(Rosenthal 218)
Hawthorne’s Confounding Variable
H. McIlvaine Parsons (1974)
Workers were informed of output rates - increased production rates
meant increased workers’ wages (!)
Increased productivity was also reinforced by feedback about output rates
Researchers cautioned to consider how they might affect informants
(Rosenthal 218-9)
Interpreter Bias
“refers to the systematic errors that occur during the interpretationof-data phase of the research process”
Racial Differences in IQ Research - Sherwood/Nataupsky (1968)
Studied the effect of investigators’ personal background with regard to
their evaluation of IQ tests given to blacks and whites
Conclusion: it was possible, “statistically to discriminate particular
conclusions reached by the investigators studied.”
(Rosenthal 128)
Observer Bias
to systematic errors in the observation or recording phase
of research”
“Our assumptions define and limit what we see, i.e. we tend to see
things in such a way that they will fit in with our assumptions even
if this involves distortions or omissions.” M.L. Johnson, biologist
(Rosenthal 129)
N Rays gone awry
Cautionary tale of observer bias: Andre Blondlot
Early 20th century french physicist, Blondlot claimed the discovery of N
rays, but no one could successfully replicate his findings…
During a demonstration, N rays were “observed,” despite suspicious
physicist R.W. Wood “surreptitiously” having removed the essential
prism from Blondlot’s experimental apparatus.
There were no N rays. :(
(Rosenthal 129)
As anonymity is usually not possible with qualitative research
methods, P.O.s must seek to protect informants by adhering to
strict confidentiality standards.
Use of psuedonyms, removing identifying details (SSN etc.) and
employing careful record keeping
(Powell 181)
Alfred C. Kinsey
Kinsey’s work in gathering data
for Sexual Behavior in the
Human Male (1948) has
garnered much criticism.
Kinsey kept sources’ identities’
confidential, including pedophiles
He was and is still criticized for
not reporting those sources to
proper authorities
References and further reading
Powell, Ronald and Lynn Silipigni Connaway. Basic Research Methods for Librarians. 4th ed. Westport, Cn:
Libraries Unlimited. 2004.
Rosenthal, Robert and Ralph Rosnow. Essentials of Behavioral Research: Methods and Data Analysis. 3rd ed.
New York: McGraw Hill. 2008.
Feynman, R. P. (1999). The Pleasure of finding things out. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.
Fine, G. A. & Deegan, J. G. (1996). Three principles of Serendip: Insight, chance, and discovery in qualitative
research. Qualitative Studies in Education, 9, 434-447.
Parsons, H. M. (1978). What caused the Hawthorne effect? A scientific detective story. Administration and
Society, 10, 259-283.
Pfungst, O. Clever Hans (The Horse of Mr. Von Osten). New York: Henry Holt. (Reissued 1965 by Holt, New
York, with introduction by R. Rosenthal)
Rosenthal, R. (1966). Experimenter effects in behavioral research. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Sherwood, J. J., & Nataupsky, M. (1968). Predicting the conclusions of Negro-white intelligence research from
biographical characteristics of the investigator. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8, 53-58.
Spradley, J. P. (1980). Participant observation. New York: Holt.
Respect for individuals
Benefits research
Valid research designs
Competent researchers
Identification of negative consequences
Randomly selected participants
Voluntary participation
Compensation for injury
(Sieber 1992: qtd in Denzin, p. 270)
*See Research Methods in the Social Sciences (pp. 80-5).
Informed Consent
Covert Research?
Informed Consent
Federal Guidelines
Fair explanation of the procedures to be followed and their purposes;
Description of the attendant discomforts and risks reasonably to be
Description of the benefits reasonably to be expected;
Disclosure of the appropriate alternative procedures that might be
advantageous to the participant;
An offer to answer inquiries concerning the procedures;
An instruction that the person is free to withdraw consent and to
discontinue participation in the project at any time without prejudicing the
status of the participant.
(Frankfort-Nachmias and Nachmias 2008: 75)
Informed Consent
Three dimensions of privacy:
1) Sensitivity
2) Setting
Anonymity versus Confidentiality
What about covert research?
APA’s Ethical principles for research with human participants (1982):
E. Methodological requirements of a study may make the use of
concealment or deception necessary. Before conducting such a study,
the investigator has a special responsibility to 1) determine whether the
use of such techniques is justified by the study’s prospective scientific,
educational, or applied value; 2) determine whether alternative
procedures are available that do not use concealment or deception;
and 3) ensure that the participants are provided with sufficient
explanation as soon as possible.
(Rosenthal and Rosnow 2008: 66)
No informed consent
Feelings of betrayal
Illegal behavior
Whose rights are more important?
Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)
Why they are necessary
APA (American Psychological Association)
APS (Association for Psychological Science)
How they do it: the “cost-utility approach.”
The IRB Review Process and the Social
The unique nature of each study
Influence of biomedicine
Increase social scientist participation.
Educate IRB members.
Explore new ways of review.
Urie Bronfenbrenner (1952)
Bosk, Charles L. and Raymond G. De Vries, “Bureaucracies of Mass Deception: Institutional Review Boards and the Ethics of Ethnographic
Research,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 595 (September 2004): 249-63 [journal online],
accessed 11 October 2008 <>.
Calvey, David, “The Art and Politics of Covert Research: Doing ‘Situated Ethics’ in the Field,” Sociology 42, no. 5 (2008): 905-18 [journal online],
accessed 11 October 2008 <>.
Davies, Charlotte Aull, Reflexive Ethnography: A guide to researching selves and others. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2008.
Denzin, Norman K. Interpretive Ethnography: Ethnographic Practices for the 21st Century. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1997.
Fine, Gary Alan, “Ten Lies of Ethnography: Moral Dilemmas of Field Research,” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 22, no. 3 (October
1993): 267-94.
Fluehr-Lobban, Carolyn. “Informed Consent in Anthropological Research: We Are Not Exempt,” Ethics and the Profession of Anthropology:
Dialogue for Ethically Conscious Practice. 2nd ed. Ed. Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban. New York: Altamira-Rowman, 2003. p. 159-77.
Frankfort-Nachmias, Chava and David Nachmias, Research Methods in the Social Sciences. 7th ed. New York: Worth, 2008.
Goodwin, Dawn, Catherine Pope, Maggie Mort, and Andrew Smith, “Ethics and Ethnography: An Experiential Account,” Qualitative Health
Research 13, no. 4 (April 2003): 567-77 [journal online], accessed 11 October 2008
Parker, Michael, “Ethnography/ethics,” Social Science & Medicine 65 (2007): 2248-59.
Powell, Ronald R. and Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Basic Research Methods for Librarians. Library and Information Science Text Series. 4th ed.
Westport: Libraries Unlimited-Greenwood, 2004.
Rosenthal, Robert and Ralph L. Rosnow, Essentials of Behavioral Research: Methods and Data Analysis. 3rd ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

Ethnography - UCLA Department of Information Studies