Home > D844 > D844 Block One – Exercice 1: What is ethnography?

D844 Block One – Exercice 1: What is ethnography?

In D884, the OU’s course named “Ethnography”, the fist question of module one is: “What is ethnography”. Through the reading of a few articles’ and books’ extract the course guide invites the student to build a representation of what is ethnography with their own words.

The common grip among the plethora of definitions and concepts covered by the ethnography field of research is certainly that it involves, above all, observational and qualitatives research methods (Mason, 1996; Denzin, 1997; Fielding, 1993). It seems also clear that ethnography results are mostly presented as a descriptive and accurate writing about what has been observed by one or many researchers, living with the specimen they observe for a rather long period of time (Mason, 1996; Denzin, 1997; Willis and Trondman, 2000; D844, 2011 p. 8; Baszanger and Dodier, 2004).

This writing has to present the reality in the most convincing way (Malinoswki in Denz, 1997). This creates a tension between two schools of thinking: the naturalists who assume that researchers living and observing a population have not influence on it and the constructionists who claim that results and the research itself is influenced by the researchers’ posture or even by the just the fact the observers are observing.

It seems that, in ethnography, a big place is given to descriptive writings of the reality observed, whereas a smaller place is left for quantitative data analysis, statistical decisions and inferences.

In short and as a first definition of “What is ethnography”, I would say:

“This is a form of research that implies researchers to study a field of research in situ and for a long time, to provide, with a set of empirical tools, a written report of their experience and observations, which are as close as possible to what it could have been observed by anyone in the same place and the same time, but also knowing that the collection of data may have been different if the researchers were not there”.

I will have to rethink about this later during the course.

Baszanger, I. and Dodier, N. (2002) ‘Relating the part to the whole’, Qualitative research: Theory, method and practice. London: Sage publications.
D844 (2011) ‘D844 Block one – The ethnography tradition’, The Open University.
Denzin, N.K. (1997) Interpretive ethnography: Ethnographic practices for the 21st century, Sage Publications, Inc.
Fielding, N. (1993) ‘Ethnography’,.
Gilbert, G.N. (2001) Researching social life, Sage Publications Ltd.
Mason, J. (2002) Qualitative researching, Sage Publications Ltd.
Willis, P. and Trondman, M. (2000) ‘Manifesto for ethnography’, Ethnography, 1(1), pp. 5-16.

Categories: D844
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