Ethnography Essentials: Designing, Conducting, and Presenting Your Research
January 2010, ©2010, Jossey-Bass
Designed to give basic hands-on experience in the overall ethnography research process, Ethnography Essentials covers a wealth of topics, enabling anyone new to ethnography research to successfully explore the excitement and challenges of field research.
PART 1 THE WHY AND WHAT OF ETHNOGRAPHY.
1. WHAT IS ETHNOGRAPHY?
Ethnography: The Engaged, Firsthand Study of Society and Culture in Action.
A Brief History.
How Ethnography Has Changed: Doing Contemporary Ethnography.
Ethnography as Firsthand Research.
Ethnographer as Research Instrument.
Collaboration as Research Model: Ethnographer as Student.
2. CHOOSING AN ETHNOGRAPHIC TOPIC.
Where to Look for Possible Topics.
Ethnographic Topics: Studying Places, People, or Events.
The Benefits of a Relatively Specific Focus.
Thinking About the Nonobvious as Discoverable.
Cultural Knowledge and Behavior in Action as Research Objects.
Considering Ethics from the Start: Your Obligations to Potential Informants.
Topics You Might Want to Avoid.
3. RESEARCH DESIGN.
Turning an Idea or Topic into a Research Question.
Linking Questions to Methods.
Key Methods to Consider for the Ethnographic Project.
What is Practical or Feasible? Time, Availability, and Ethics.
4. WRITING A PROPOSAL.
Identifying and Reviewing Appropriate Literature.
Statement of the Problem.
A Clear Research Plan.
Identifying Your Project's Larger Relevance.
Human Subjects Review and Approval.
PART 2 ETHNOGRAPHY IN THE FIELD: COLLECTING DATA.
5. A GUIDE TO COLLECTING DATA AND TAKING NOTES.
The Fleeting Nature of Ethnographic Data.
“Should I Write it Down Immediately?”
The Importance of Detail in the Ethnographic Record.
Writing Notes Versus Using Recorders.
The Prospects of Transcription.
What Is Important and What Is Superfluous—”What Do I Need to Write Down?”
The Ethics of Collecting Information.
The Apparent Paradox: Participation and Observation.
Balancing Participation and Observation.
The Importance of Time.
Depending on Informants as Teachers and Guides.
Regular Versus Extraordinary Behavior and Conversations.
Starting with Informal Interviews and Conversations.
Informal Conversation as an Avenue to “Real” Culture.
A Good Interviewer Is a Good Listener.
How to Record Interview Data.
Using an Interview Schedule.
How to Start an Interview.
Good Versus Bad Interview Questions.
When to Conduct Formal Interviews.
8. ANALYZING ALONG THE WAY.
Identifying Key Themes and Questions: Paying Attention to Your Data.
How to Organize Your Notes.
What Have You Learned?
What Do You Still Need to Do?
Has the Research Question Changed?
Tweaking the Research Design.
Getting Feedback from Your Informants.
Writing at the Midway Point.
9. ETHNOGRAPHIC MAPS.
Space and Movement as Key Components of Culture.
The Importance of Space, Shape, and Distance.
Large- and Small-Scale Geographic Maps.
Mapping Interior Spaces.
Cognitive or Conceptual Maps.
Representing Movement and Behavior on a Map.
10. TABLES AND CHARTS.
Interpersonal Relationships as a Manifestation of Culture.
Kinship as an Organizing Principle.
Other Organizational Charts.
11. ARCHIVES AND SECONDARY DATA.
Cultural Artifacts as Sources of Information.
Making Ethnographic Use of Archives.
Contemporary Cultural Artifacts.
Evaluating and Analyzing Cultural Artifacts.
Analytical Sources Versus Popular or Primary Sources.
PART 3 ANALYZING AND WRITING.
12. SORTING AND CODING DATA.
Writing from Your Research Data.
Identifying Key Themes and Questions.
Identifying Important Research Moments and Experiences.
Coding and Sorting the Ethnographic Record.
Dealing with Apparent Contradictions: The Messiness of Ethnographic Data.
13. ANSWERING QUESTIONS AND BUILDING MODELS.
Fitting the Pieces Together.
Moving from Data to Theory: The Inductive Process.
Remembering the Big Picture and the Big Questions.
Infusing Theory in Ethnography.
14. CHOOSING THE APPROPRIATE PRESENTATION STYLE.
Common Ethnographic Conventions.
The Importance of Ethnographic Detail.
Matching Style to Audience, Subject, and Analysis.
A Formal to Informal Continuum of Style.
15. PUTTING THE WHOLE ETHNOGRAPHY TOGETHER.
The Hourglass Shape as a Model.
Alternative Models for Organizing an Ethnography.
Incorporating Relevant Literature.
Incorporating Maps, Charts, and Photographs.
Demonstrating the Project’s Relevance.
Evaluating and Revising Ethnography.
Sharing the Ethnography.
Incorporating Responses and Critiques.
Julian M. Murchison is associate professor of anthropology and sociology at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. He conducted ethnographic research in southern Tanzania for nearly two years. He regularly travels to Tanzania with students and supervises their independent research projects and ethnographic writing.