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Fieldwork is the hallmark of cultural anthropology. Whether in the suburbs of Kasol in Himachal Pradesh or on New Delhi streets, India, the anthropologist goes where people actually live and carries out his fieldwork. This means he watches the ceremonies which are being followed in that particular suburbs, he observes how the people wash their clothes, how kids play and how they learn their language by asking questions about their culture, taking field notes, and lot of other things. Conducting ethnography refers to the vast range of activities often recondite the most fundamental task of all fieldwork. The details of anthropological fieldwork is detailed in this chapter.

Ethnography originated from social research. The term ‘ethnography’ was more popular during the nineteenth century in Western anthropology. Ethnography was an evocative description of the culture which was usually followed in the outskirts of the west. In the middle of nineteenth century ethnography was divergent with, and was typically seen as similar to, ethnology, which constituted to the past and relative study of non-western societies and cultures. Ethnology was regarded as the center of anthropological work, and drew individual ethnographic accounts which were being followed by travelers and missionaries. Ethnology did not get much support from anthropologists since they started doing their own fieldwork, this let to ethnography coming in the fore front. Ethnography was referred to as an integration of both empirical investigation and the theoretical and relative elucidation of community learning and ethnicity.

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Since twentieth century, ethnographic fieldwork has been vital to anthropology. In fact, carrying out fieldwork, which is not similar to one’s own culture, became a rite of passage required for entry to the anthropologists tribe. One of the prerequisite of fieldwork was to live with a group of people for longer durations, sometimes more than six months, in order to record, observe and infer their unique way of life, and the attitude and ethics related to it.

Ethnographic work describes culture. The endeavor of ethnography is to weigh another way of life from the native point of view. According to Malinowski (1994), to embrace the native’s point of view is the main objective of ethnography, the ethnographer tries to find out the native’s relation to life, and what his vision of the world. Fieldwork is carried out for understanding what the world is like to people who have learned to see, speak, think, hear, and act in ways that are different. Ethnographer does not study people, rather he learns from from people.


Distinctiveness from Other Qualitative Research

1.      Ethnography: According to Hammersly and Atkinson (1983) in ethnographic study the role of the researcher is to participate overtly or covertly in people’s daily lives for longer duration inspecting what is happening, listens to what is being communicated by asking relevant questions. In other words the researcher collects all the relevant data which would throw light on issues which concerns the researcher.

2.      Grounded Theory: Glaser, Strauss, and Corbin (1967) developed grounded theory. In this research methodology the researcher uses game plan which are inductive in nature for analyzing the data. The researcher begins the research with no pre-existing (1) theory; (2) propositions; and (3) hypothesis, or research findings but relatively permits a theory to emerge directly from the data.  The aim of the research is to illustrate the topic of study in a proper manner and  also to develop adequate theoretical conceptualizations of  research findings. In the first step the researcher begins with individual cases or scenarios which are chosen prior to carrying out the rresearch, data is collected and analyzed at the same time. The theory is conceptualized from the beginning, and allows findings and conceptualizations to grow and stimulate together. One interview builds on the prior data collections and the conceptualizations that have been developed up to that point. The researcher gathers thick data and makes the meanings of the participants explicit. The researcher continues this process until reaching saturation i.e. he is no longer learning anything new. The researcher’s conceptualizations are based on his exclusive skills and experiences.

3.      Ethnomethodology: Ethnomethodology was introduced by Garfinkel (1967) and involves the various techniques which people use to carry out their day-to-day activities. An important assumption in ethnomethodology is that of reflexivity whereby social activities not only represent the everyday social world but also self generate it.

4.      Conversation Analysis:  Conversation Analysis is a research methodology that grew out of ethnomethodology, and has some unique features. It studies the social organization of conversation, the first step is to record the conversation, then the data are transcribed,then the analysis of the transcribed data is carried out, and the final report is prepared.

5.      Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis: Interpretive phenomenological analysis is concerned with trying to understand lived experience. The researcher also tries to find out how participants make sense of their experiences on their own. The main objective of the researcher is to find out the meanings which the participants hold for those experiences.

6.      Phenomenological: The aim of phenomenological approach is to develop an entirely new, clear and coherent description and understanding of a particular human experience. The research objective is met by the researcher by employing special special investigator stance. The participants for the study are only those who have experienced the phenomenology. The researcher then collects the data from the participants by conducting interview; analysis of the data is carried out before the final report is prepared.

7.      Symbolic Interactionism: The opinion of symbolic interactionism is that the human interaction is viewed as a set of symbolic, largely linguistic world to a certain extent rather than causes and effects. The researcher needs to know how symbols are used and interpreted in order to understand human interaction.

Characteristics of Ethnography

1.      Related and Comprehensive: Ethnographic study is very comprehensive. Relating the data means placing observations and data which is collected by conducting interview  into a bigger viewpoint. A central belief of ethnography is that people’s behavior is context specific; which means that when the data is being analyzed the ethnographer cannot separate essentials of human behavior from their related circumstance of idea and significance. In reality it is this specific context that provides for the understanding of human behavior. The task of the ethnographer is not only to describe human behavior; they ought to understand why the behavior takes place and under what circumstances. The hallmark of ethnographic research is fieldwork where the ethnographer has to work with people in their natural setting very closely for a longer duration. For conducting the fieldwork successfully the ethnographer has to observe the participant closely. Participants are observed by maintaining some distance by the ethnographer that allows for sufficient observation and data recording. How the ethnographer collects, sorts, and processes the data to come up with patterns of the whole depends on the focus of the ethnography and the ethnographer’s preferences and skills. The aim of this process is to restructure the data in a useful and logical fashion, putting it together into evocative relationships, patterns, and categories. The ethnographer presents a comprehensive conception of a social group within its relevant contexts of meaning and purpose.

2.    Spontaneous: The quality of ethnography is spontaneity,  which means that the ethnographer who is a member of the social group that he or she is studying are affected by it. In order to explain the characteristics spontaneous, authors Hammersley and Atkinson (1983) observed that the distinction between science and common sense, between the activities of the researcher and those of the researched, lies at the heart of both positivism and naturalism. They suggested that both (extreme) positions “assume that it is possible, in principle at least, to isolate a body of data uncontaminated by the researcher, either by turning a body of data uncontaminated by the researcher, either by turning him or her into an automaton or by making him or her a neutral vessel of cultural experience” (p.14). The data collected by the ethnographer is not taken at the face value, the data collected is also considered as a field of inferences in which theoretical patterns can be known and tested.

The ethnography process consists of observing the participants as well as conducting the interview of the participants’. The combination of observation and interview leads to spontaneity.  According to Werner and Schoepfle (1987):

“As ethnographers, we try to do more than just describe the cultural knowledge of the native. We try to understand and, if possible, explain. We need to be able to explain how the natives could possibly view the world as they do. The paradox of this situation, is that all description, understanding, and explanation of the natives’ cultural knowledge is based fundamentally on two disparate, incompletely, transmittable, presumptive systems of knowledge –the knowledge of the native and the knowledge of the ethnographer” (p. 60).

They also observed that this blend of insider/outsider perspective provides deeper insights that are possible by the native alone or an ethnographer alone. Both the views put together produce a third dimension that rounds out the ethnographic picture. Thus good ethnography produces theory from the spontaneity nature of the ethnographic experience. A good ethnography is always more than just description; it is also a theoretical explanation. The intensity and supremacy of the theory differ according to the scope and focus of the ethnography.

3.    Emics and Etics: The most common terms in ethnography are emics and etics, and they are associated directly to spontaneity.  The emic perspective is defined as the insider’s view or the informant’s view of reality and is the heart of ethnographic research.  The emic perspective is important to understand the behaviors of the participants. The outsider’s perspective is called as etic which reveals the researchers abstractions, or the scientific explanation of reality. Both the viewpoints are important in helping the ethnographer understand why members of that particular group do what they do, and both are important if the ethnographer is to understand and accurately explain situations and behaviors. The viewpoints help ethnographer develop theoretical interpretations. The term native was used by prior researchers to refer to the people they studied, and they wrote about the emic point of view. But recently the objective of ethnographies has widened to include other kinds of social groups; the term informant has been used widely to explain members of a sample. Researchers who are interested to know the informants view point use cognitive methods to collect, interpret and give meaning to interview data.  Researchers who are interested in scientific framework use etic approach and collect data by observing the informants and by carrying out informal interview.

When to Use Ethnography

According to Wolcott (1999) ethnography research can be used when the following conditions (one or more) are satisfied:

·         While you are probing for the meaning of cultural norms and views.

·         While you have to examine the use of certain behaviors or practices.

·         While examining social trends and instances, for example, divorce.

·         When the problem which is being investigated is not clear

·         When the problem is multifaceted and rooted in multiple systems or sectors

·         To identify participants when the participants, sectors, or stakeholders are not yet known or identified

·         To clarify the range of settings where the problem or situations is occurring at times when the settings are not fully identified, known or understood

·         When you want to investigate the issues associated with the issue

·         When the role of the researchers is recognized

·         Ethnography helps the researched integrate professional and personal life

·         When the ethnographer would like to focus on both verbal and non verbal behavior of the participant

·         When the researcher wants to makes the research motivating and daring 

·         When the researcher needs deep insightful data

·         When the researcher wants to learn and use another native language

·         When the researcher does not have sufficient finances for collecting the data

Types of Ethnography

The techniques of ethnographic research have changed in today’s milieu compared to studies which were carried out in the past, the main reason for the change is the increase of knowledge in streams like computer science, social science, statistics, and linguistics. Apart from that, globalization trends in economics, education, and other fields have formed the types and foci of ethnographies. Additionally, the skills and experience of the ethnographer also influence the kind of ethnography she or he produces. For instance, an ethnographer whose epistemological stand is that a culture should be studied through language will give emphasis to the emic outlook and will use techniques which are analytical in nature which is resultant of ethnoscience.

The group size which is being investigated depends on the objective of the study. The ideal size of groups which are being investigated is about five members (McFeat, 1974; Willis & Trondman, 2000).  According to Werner and Schoepfle (1987) microethnography refers to the study of small groups consisting of fewer than fifteen members. The terms mini-ethnography is used to depict a narrow area of inquiry and maxi ethnography is used to describe a broader, classical study (Leininger, 1985). The term focused ethnography is used to describe the topic- oriented, small group ethnographies found in the nursing literature (Clifford & Marcus, 1986; Hannerz, 2003; Morse, 1991).

Cross-sectional Ethnography: Cross-sectional ethnography is holistic in nature. Authors like Agar (1996) and Spradley (1970) have used cross-sectional to study the culture of tramps; he wanted to study them since they possess an integrated culture with a well-developed terminology. The trend toward applied anthropology and the use of ethnography in other disciplines cross-sectional designs of increasing sophistication undoubtedly will become more common.
Ethnohistorical Ethnography: Ethnography is usually written in present tense. Writing in present tense ensures that all the events described by the ethnographer have taken place at the same time. Ethnographers can follow two types of description namely synchronic and ethnohistorical (Danzig, 1985; Denzin, 2003; Van Maanen, 2011; Werner & Schoepfle, 1987). Ethnohistorical descriptions refer to the description of the cultural reality of the present as the historical result of events in the past.
Focused Ethnography: Focused ethnography is a useful research methodology that has been extensively used in investigating specific fields in contemporary society which is culturally and socially highly differentiated and fragmented (Knoblauch, 2005; Rampton, 2006; Snow, Morrill & Anderson, 2003). It is mainly useful in eliciting information on shared experience (Crang & Cook, 2007; O’reilly, 2012; Richards & Morse, 2007). Ethnographers target shared features of individuals in groups, so that they can focus on general behaviors and experiences of the individuals (Richards & Morse, 2007). According to Nicolini (2012) and Roper and Shapira (2000), focused ethnography allows the researcher to better understand the complexities surrounding issues from the participants’ perspectives (i.e. emic view) while bringing the outsider’s agenda to the investigation (for example the etic view). The main features of focused ethnographies as identified by Muecke (1994) are:

·         It is context-specific.

·         It focuses on a distinct community.

·         Theoretical point of reference of a single researcher.

·         Involvement of a limited number of participants.

·         Episodic participation observation.

·         Participants usually hold explicit acquaintance.

·         Used in advancement in healthcare services and academia.

In addition, focused ethnographies are inclined to have pre-selected theme of enquiry, they use themes that are extremely prearranged around the issues and limit to participant observation (Higginbottom, 2011; Fairhead, Leach, & Scoones, 2012; Falzon, 2016). Since the researcher focuses on an explicit issue which has been experienced by individuals who need not necessarily reside in the same neighborhood, it may not be necessary for ethnographers to engage in the fieldwork which are routine in conventional ethnography. According to Knoblauch (2005) focused ethnographies make effective use of video recordings and have subsequent data sessions wherein the data which is collected is discussed and opinions of other prospect in groups, including the researcher and other informed individuals are taken. Some of the distinctions between conventional and focused ethnographies are:

Conventional Ethnography

Focused Ethnography


Transcripts and notes


Coding and consecutive analysis

Participant role

Field observer role





Long term field visits

Short term field visits

Time extensity

Time intensity

Insider knowledge

Background knowledge

Experientially exhaustive

Data intensity


Ethnographic Action Research: Ethnographic action research is a combination of ethnography and action research (Crang, 2003; Gobo, 2008; Tacchi et al., 2003). Ethnography is about writing a culture. Action Research is an iterative approach, which is a combination of theory and practice. Ethnography guides the research being undertaken, and action research links the research findings back into the developing project. The operation of ethnographic action research is at two levels viz it provides a wide understanding of the context in which projects work, and also in understandings of particular issues. It is iterative, using repeated cycles of planning, doing, observing, and reflecting. Ethnographic Action Research has been used in United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) projects to help reduce poverty with the help of information and communication technologies.
Miscellaneous Classifications: The other classifications of ethnography are urban and rural, holistic and particularistic, single and multiple theme, georaphical dimension like villages, cities, and nations. Ethnographies can be classified based on language ie native or translated. Some of them have done ethnography on photographic and film ethographies. 

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