Archive for the ‘D844’ Category

D844 Block One – Exercice 2 Question 3: What do the two models have in common?

According to Hammersley and Atkinson (2007) the two competing philosophical positions in ethnography: positivism and naturalism, have in common that they both try to maintain a detached position of the researcher, and they both consider social interactions or phenomena as objects.

They should be seen as complementary each other instead of  rival methods.


Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P. (2007) Ethnography: Principles in practice, Taylor & Francis.

Categories: D844

D844 Block One – Exercice 2 Question 2: What differing philosophical positions have underlain qualitative and quantitative research?

What differing philosophical positions have underlain qualitative and quantitative research? (Hammersley & Atkinson, 2007, p. 4-10)

Hammersley and Atkinson speak about a clash between two competing philosophical positions: positivism and naturalism (Hammersley & Atkinson, 2007, p. 4).

They consider the major tenets of  ‘positivism’ as the following :

  1. experiment results must be quantitavely measurable
  2. events are explained in  deductive fashion by appeal to universal laws
  3. the foundation of positive-science is observation
  4. the method is concerned by the testing of theories and hypotheses (see Descartes, 2001)
  5. the facts that the method and observations collect are theory-neutral
  6. the final aim is the search for universal laws

On the other hand, ‘naturalism’ is presented as:

  1. developed by the what called School of Chicago
  2. underpinning ideas coming from the holistic movement of thinking, following Melèse (1972), Wygotsky (2003) or Wiener’s (1952) systemic approach
  3. being an approach to understand cultural meanings
  4. focusing more on the relation between the sing and the significance and its evolution through time than on facts
  5. using a set of qualitatives tools
  6. not trying to sum up observation but recording events and observations with a huge sense of the details.


Descartes, R. (2001) Discourse on method, optics, geometry, and meteorology, Hackett Publishing.

Gindis, Vladimir S. Ageyev and Miller, Suzanne M. (2003) Vygotsky’s Educational Theory in Cultural Context (Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P. (2007) Ethnography: Principles in practice, Taylor & Francis.

Mélèse, Jacques (1972) L’analyse modulaire des systèmes, Paris, Edition des Hommes et Techniques.

Wiener, Norbert (1952) Cybernétique et société, Deux Rives.

Categories: D844

D844 Block One – Exercice 2 Question 1: What is ethnography, according to Hammersley and Atkison?

What is ethnography, according to Hammersley and Atkinson (2007, p. 1-5)

Hammersley an Atkison, claim that ethnography comes from nineteenth-century Western anthropology. Ethnography was primarily ‘a descriptive account of a community or culture, usually one located outside the West’ (ibid, p 1).

Mainly ethnography in the twentieth-century means writing about the experiences and observations (data) gathered from living with a group of people (fieldwork) for a long time. Aims in ethnography research studies are to understand other’s people lives.

The features that characterise ethnography are :

  1. People’s actions are studied in everyday contexts and not in laboratories
  2. Data, which are more often qualitative reports and field-notes, than quantitative figures, are gathered from a range of sources
  3. Gathered data are for the most part, unstructured
  4. Fieldwork is made of few cases, which facilitates in-depth study but doesn’t give a truthful picture of the whole
  5. Analysis involves interpretation of the meaning
  6. Studies employ a relatively open-ended approach (Maxwell, 2005)

Hammersley and Atkinson also claim the importance for the researchers to negotiate their position in the community they seek to study. This negotiation is an never-ending process, the researchers taking part to the community evolves and their roles may change and then must be re-negotiated regularly (Hammersley & Atkinson, 2007, p. 4)


Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P. (2007) Ethnography: Principles in practice, Taylor & Francis.
Maxwell, J.A. (2005) Qualitative research design: An interactive approach, Sage Publications, Inc.

Categories: D844

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