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Ethnography Essentials: Designing, Conducting, and Presenting Your Research



Ethnography Essentials: Designing, Conducting, and Presenting Your Research

Julian Murchison

ISBN: 978-0-470-55296-4 January 2010 Jossey-Bass 272 Pages

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A comprehensive and practical guide to ethnographic research, this book guides you through the process, starting with the fundamentals of choosing and proposing a topic and selecting a research design. It describes methods of data collection (taking notes, participant observation, interviewing, identifying themes and issues, creating ethnographic maps and tables and charts, and referring to secondary sources) and analyzing and writing ethnography (sorting and coding data, answering questions, choosing a presentation style, and assembling the ethnography). Although content is focused on producing written ethnography, many of the principles and methods discussed here also apply to other forms of ethnographic presentation, including ethnographic film.

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.

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Preface vii

The Author xiii

Part 1 The Why and What of Ethnography 1

1 What is Ethnography? 3

Ethnography: The Engaged, Firsthand Study of Society and Culture in Action 4

A Brief History 4

How Ethnography Has Changed: Doing Contemporary Ethnography 8

Ethnography as Firsthand Research 12

Ethnographer as Research Instrument 13

Collaboration as Research Model: Ethnographer as Student 15

2 Choosing an Ethnographic Topic 19

Where to Look for Possible Topics 22

Ethnographic Topics: Studying Places, People, or Events 23

The Benefits of a Relatively Specific Focus 23

Thinking About the Nonobvious as Discoverable 26

Cultural Knowledge and Behavior in Action as Research Objects 28

Practical Concerns 29

Considering Ethics from the Start: Your Obligations to Potential Informants 32

Topics You Might Want to Avoid 33

3 Research Design 37

Turning an Idea or Topic into a Research Question 38

Linking Questions to Methods 40

Key Methods to Consider for the Ethnographic Project 41

What is Practical or Feasible? Time, Availability, and Ethics 47

4 Writing a Proposal 51

Identifying and Reviewing Appropriate Literature 52

Statement of the Problem 55

A Clear Research Plan 56

Identifying Your Project’s Larger Relevance 58

Human Subjects Review and Approval 59

Part 2 Ethnography in the Field: Collecting Data 65

5 A Guide to Collecting Data and Taking Notes 67

The Fleeting Nature of Ethnographic Data 69

“Should I Write it Down Immediately?” 69

The Importance of Detail in the Ethnographic Record 71

Writing Notes Versus Using Recorders 72

The Prospects of Transcription 74

What is Important and What is Superfluous: “What Do I Need to Write Down?” 76

The Ethics of Collecting Information 78

6 Participant-Observation 83

The Apparent Paradox: Participation and Observation 84

Balancing Participation and Observation 87

The Importance of Time 88

Depending on Informants as Teachers and Guides 89

Getting Started 92

Regular Versus Extraordinary Behavior and Conversations 94

7 Interviews 99

Starting with Informal Interviews and Conversations 101

Informal Conversation as an Avenue to “Real” Culture 104

A Good Interviewer is a Good Listener 105

How to Record Interview Data 105

Using an Interview Schedule 107

How to Start an Interview 108

Good Versus Bad Interview Questions 109

When to Conduct Formal Interviews 113

8 Analyzing Along the Way 115

Identifying Key Themes and Questions: Paying Attention to Your Data 116

How to Organize Your Notes 117

What Have You Learned? 118

What Do You Still Need to Do? 119

Has the Research Question Changed? 120

Tweaking the Research Design 121

Getting Feedback from Your Informants 122

Writing at the Midway Point 123

9 Ethnographic Maps 127

Space and Movement as Key Components of Culture 131

The Importance of Space, Shape, and Distance 131

Large- and Small-Scale Geographic Maps 132

Mapping Interior Spaces 135

Cognitive or Conceptual Maps 138

Representing Movement and Behavior on a Map 141

10 Tables and Charts 143

Ethnographic Tables 144

Interpersonal Relationships as a Manifestation of Culture 144

Kinship as an Organizing Principle 146

Other Organizational Charts 149

11 Archives and Secondary Data 157

Cultural Artifacts as Sources of Information 158

Making Ethnographic Use of Archives 161

Contemporary Cultural Artifacts 164

Evaluating and Analyzing Cultural Artifacts 166

Analytical Sources Versus Popular or Primary Sources 167

Part 3 Analyzing and Writing 171

12 Sorting and Coding Data 173

Writing from Your Research Data 174

Identifying Key Themes and Questions 175

Identifying Important Research Moments and Experiences 176

Coding and Sorting the Ethnographic Record 178

Dealing with Apparent Contradictions: The Messiness of Ethnographic Data 181

13 Answering Questions and Building Models 183

Fitting the Pieces Together 184

Moving from Data to Theory: The Inductive Process 190

Remembering the Big Picture and the Big Questions 190

Infusing Theory in Ethnography 192

14 Choosing the Appropriate Presentation Style 195

Common Ethnographic Conventions 196

The Importance of Ethnographic Detail 202

Matching Style to Audience, Subject, and Analysis 204

A Formal to Informal Continuum of Style 206

15 Putting the Whole Ethnography Together 211

The Hourglass Shape as a Model 212

Alternative Models for Organizing an Ethnography 213

Incorporating Relevant Literature 214

Incorporating Maps, Charts, and Photographs 215

Demonstrating the Project’s Relevance 216

Evaluating and Revising Ethnography 217

Sharing the Ethnography 218

Incorporating Responses and Critiques 220

Glossary 223

References 231

Index 235