Ethnography: A Checklist

Ethnography, according to Shaffir, is the a descriptive science that emphasizes the observation and description of a group’s behaviour in order to understand their culture. But Luker argues that it should be the practices of the group being studied rather than the culture, which makes for the salsa-dancing methods. Based on Luker observation is done in order to build theory. According to Luker ethnography research should be about generating theory rather than testing them, as most researchers do.

Ethnography is good for observing the subjects in his or her natural environment, which leads to data being collected under different conditions than if the subject was taken out of his or her home environment. It perceives the normal habits in a familiar environment to the subject. The researcher is able to observe not just the subject’s behaviour but also the context or surrounding of his or her environment. For example if a researcher was interested in cookbooks they would go to the subjects home and observe how the cookbooks are placed and what kinds the subject owns.

The problems with ethnography pertain to how difficult it can be to gain the data and as Shaffir states researchers normally omit some of his or her methods used for gathering data when writing reports on how he or she conducted the research. I found this to be interesting because of how it was discussed in class and through the readings of the importance of writing how you conducted the research project so that other researchers may observe what was done and apply the methods to future research. There is no simple way of conducting ethnography because it depends on the environment and the research has to adapt his or her research model based on the problem and setting at hand.

I found Stebbins article be helpful in what one should and should not do in regards to ethnography. I think these are really good tips for anyone who plans on conducting ethnography as part of his or her research methods. According to Stebbins one must first gain the trust of the group being studied and this must be done early on in order to prevent the subjects from feeling threatened by the researcher’s presence. Researchers often experience problems in gaining entry to the group but are able to maintain his or her scientifically distance. A researcher should not act like an expert but should have some knowledge that is sufficient. The researcher should be genuinely interested in the group’s way of life so it should not be faked. Stebbins stated that the subjects are willing to voluntary teach the researcher about his or her way of life as long as it does not reach unpleasantries. A research can ask about information already known to him or he in order to maintain an impression among the subjects. A research should participate in the group’s affairs but should refrain from going native- joining the group. This will allow the research to learn something valuable by participating but it should be limited due to dangers from getting overly involved and abandoning the research project. A research can fulfill the role of a helper but the problem is it being time consuming as the research project is limited. A researcher will learn more about the settings being observed by being socialized into it, which allows for them to provide different kinds of help based on the knowledge gained but as Stebbins notes this can sometimes be less technical and more social in nature.


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