Thursday, 19 July 2012

What is Ethnography?

I had a great research design meeting with a student and a colleague yesterday where the term ethnography was discussed in reference to a study looking at the cultural appropriateness of Australian parenting training in Africa.

We suggested a participatory and ethnographic framework but what the hell were we talking about when it comes to 'ethnography'?

Ethnography is essentially work done in the actual field, a case study of a social group and has it's origins in anthropology

Data collection is done through multiple sources.... interviews, questionairres but also participant observation (ie: taking your own notes when actually observing the phenomenon under investigation/close up personal experience not distant observation).. particular attention is also taken to interview knowledgeable community members.....

Believe it or not we have a student in our Department wanting to study Reallifesuperheroes...emersing yourself in this community might be ideal for the production of an ethnography, even if it is to some degree an on-line community

 Richardson (2000) provides 5 criteria to evaluate ethnographies
  1. Substantive Contribution: "Does the piece contribute to our understanding of social-life?"
  2. Aesthetic Merit: "Does this piece succeed aesthetically?"
  3. Reflexivity: "How did the author come to write this text…Is there adequate self-awareness and self-exposure for the reader to make judgments about the point of view?"
  4. Impact: "Does this affect me? Emotionally? Intellectually?" Does it move me?
  5. Expresses a Reality: "Does it seem 'true'—a credible account of a cultural, social, individual, or communal sense of the 'real'?

some examples from the recent Issue of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography

Boredom and Action— Experiences from Youth Confinement


Few studies have examined boredom as a central experience of everyday life. This article adds to the boredom-related literature by examining the role of boredom and boredom-aversion in the everyday life of young people confined in secure care for young offenders. Data are primarily drawn from an ethnographic study in a Danish secure care unit and include both participant observation and interviews with unit residents. Drawing on theories of boredom and young people’s creation of action through risk-taking edgework, the article demonstrates how boredom is a key experience in daily life in secure care. Waiting is a defining aspect of the experienced boredom, and the young people spend much time “doing nothing,” finding it difficult to relate to the unit’s daily routines. Analyses show that the young people deal with the experience of boredom through the generation of risk-taking action. 

Ringing the Chord: Sentimentality and Nostalgia Among Male Singers

  1. Jeffrey Eugene Nash jenash@ualr.edu
    1. University of Arkansas, Little Rock, AR, USA


Singing in barbershop choruses and quartets evokes sentimentality and nostalgia as a means of interpreting the present and establishing an identity as a barbershop singer. In choruses devoted to the preservation of a highly stylized form of singing, a gendered social context shapes the acquisition of identities in the development of relationships. An analysis of the barbershop experience reveals that men, particularly those with common backgrounds, are routinely involved in expressing deep emotions through ritualized means, allowing them to maintain a version of traditional masculine identity. 

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