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Ethnographic Methodology

Ethnographic methodology is a research strategy that is common in social sciences. This methodology is basically a tool that is used by anthropologists to investigate the culture of other people. In this approach, the social life of people is studied within the area of interests. In this case data on the people and their culture is gathered using various methods. The researcher using the ethnographic methodology has to get in touch with the people plus their culture so as to gather meaningful information. (Agar, 1996)

Characteristics of ethnography.

As mentioned by Heider(2001), ethnography is holistic in its approach. This means that ethnography tackles all the aspects of a particular group or culture. In the course of investigating the culture of other people an anthropologist makes use of certain characteristics that make the process unique from other research activities.

Participant observation is also a key feature of ethnography. In most cases, the researcher has to take time and fully interact with the people being studied partly or through daily activities. It is through this strategy that data is gathered from the people. The researcher also gains the perspective of the subject rather than relying on his assumptions and perceptions.

Ethnography is also qualitative in nature in the sense that the researcher focuses on the quality of life of the subjects. This can include experiences such as rituals and sacred traditions that are unique to the culture under investigation.

Ethnography has to maintain ethics in the course of carrying out the investigations into the culture of other people. When investigating the culture of other people it is important to ensure that their human rights are respected. The researcher in this case is not supposed to misinterpret or misuse the information obtained from the subjects. (Harris & Johnson,2000).

Types of ethnography


This is a branch of anthropology that explains cultural differences between cultures by making use of existing literature in ethnography. In the process of making comparisons between cultures , ethnologists formulate hypotheses for further research on the cultures under investigation. Ethnology reconstructs the history of human beings and formulates cultural invariants. Aspects of culture and change are looked into leading to generalizations about mankind.


This is a branch of anthropology that looks into past records of humans so as to understand cultures and their indigenous customs. The history o various ethnic groups and their origins are examined in ethnohistory. The researchers use historical records and ethnographical information to come up with their conclusions about cultural groups. Ethnohistorians utilize their special knowledge on particular ethic groups and their linguistic insights to come up with interpretations of cultural phenomena.

Data collection in ethnographic studies.

Researchers in ethnographic studies collect data using different methods. Observation is one important approach employed by researchers in their quest for understanding the cultures of other people. Through participation in cultures of other people, anthropologists are able to observe and learn about important features and are used in their future interpretations. Participant observation is essential in providing first-hand information on the finer details of ethnic groups which cannot be obtained through other secondary literature sources. After a participant observation an anthropologist comes up with descriptions about the aspects of culture that were experienced during the investigation.


Interviews are a very effective method of learning about what other people do in their culture without necessarily observing them. There are semis structured or fully structured interviews that are used in ethnographic studies. Interviews allow the researcher to interact with the subjects as important information is extracted. Interviews are normally objective and investigate what the subjects do , why and how it affects their lives. The information collected through interviews leads to the formation of quotation type of data about cultural groups under investigation. (Spradley, 1979).

Secondary sources

Anthropologists also make use of secondary sources of information written on their subjects of research. This data is obtained from literal documents that have been preserved in museums, libraries and other relevant places. This data collection methods leads to the formation of excerpts in ethnographic studies. (Kottak, 2005)

The emic perspective refers to the description of a behavior concerning a particular culture in terms that make sense to the actor. An emic account is done by the person from the culture and not an outsider. An etic perspective refers to the description of cultural aspects on a particular group in terms that are meaningful to the observer. In this case the observer give an account of the culture in terms applicable to other cultures.

In the process of collecting data in an ethnographic study the researcher is involved in analysis and the activities proceed. This is useful in giving the process momentum towards achieving useful information after the research. (Richardson, 2000).

The researcher reads through the raw data collected in the field for instance the interviews to familiarize with the themes. Thematic analysis targets at comparing the data to the already established patterns. The researcher then marks the data so as to come up with similarities and connections in the data. This can be facilitated using a computer. From the analysis the researcher is able to see clearly the emerging patterns in culture and other aspects of the people under investigation.

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