Ethnographic Research Methodologies

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written here. Below is a compilation of thoughts, methodologies and uses of ethnographic research (sources follow)…

“Ethnography means, literally, a picture of the “way of life” of some identifiable group of people…[the] anthropologist’s purpose as ethnographer was to learn about, record, and ultimately portray the culture of this other group.” (Wolcott p.156)

“Ethnographic research, in much the same way, gets below the surface and challenges assumptions made regarding a variety of topics. In challenging basic assumptions, doing ethnographic research is like peeling an onion. As you peel back the layers of an onion, you discover there is yet more to be seen.” (NPS)

“Ethnography, simply stated, is the study of people in their own environment through the use of methods such as participant observation and face-to-face interviewing. As anthropologist H. Sidky suggests, ethnography documents cultural similarities and differences through empirical fieldwork and can help with scientific generalizations about human behavior and the operation of social and cultural systems (2004:9). Because anthropology as a discipline is holistic (meaning it looks at the past, present and future of a community across time and space), ethnography as a first hand, detailed account of a given community or society attempts to get a comprehensive understanding of the circumstances of the people being studied. Ethnographers, then, look at and record a people’s way of life as seen by both the people and the anthropologist; they take an emic (folk or inside) and etic (analytic or outside) approach to describing communities and cultures.” (NPS)

“Ordinarily an outsider to the group being studied, the ethnographer tries harder to know more about the cultural system he or she is studying than any individual who is a natural participant in it, at once advantaged by the outsider’s broad and analytical perspective but, by reason of that same detachment, unlikely ever totally to comprehend the insider’s point of view. The ethnographer walks a fine line. With too much distance and perspective, one is labeled aloof, remote, insensitive, superficial; with too much familiarity, empathy, and identification, one is suspected of having “gone native.” Successful ethnographers resolve that tension between involvement and detachment”. (Wolcott p.157)


National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior . Ethnographic Research Center. <;

Wolcott, Harry F. Expanding Perspectives: Qualitative Research in Higher Education. Pearson Education, Des Moines, IA. 1997.