Ethnography: Ways to Use
WHAT CAN ETHNOGRAPHY HELP ME UNDERSTAND?
Ethnographic data collection techniques enable researchers to:
- Elicit data that is more accurate and precise, primarily due to trust-building between ethnographer and respondent
- Access information that the respondents would not ordinarily share with external parties
- Obtain information or responses that are not based on their own agendas or their perceptions of the ethnographer’s focus and agenda
- Observe real behaviors and lived experiences in addition to recalled responses
- To compare real vs. reported behaviors
WHAT ARE SOME SPECIFIC APPLICATIONS OF ETHNOGRAPHY?
Specifically, ethnographic techniques can be used to:
- Identify various actors, processes, and institutions commonly perceived as influential within a complex social process: Analysis of responses using both interpretive and other analytical approaches such as Consensus or Domain Analysis can often shed light on hidden complexities that are invisible to external observers.
- Understanding Local Logics and Rationale: Ethnographic data usually consists of detailed and extended notes on conversations, formal and informal interviews, group discussions, as well as observations of real behaviors, events, and lived experiences of the people in their own cultural and physical histories and environments. This enables ethnographers to gain an ‘insider’s or the emic perspective’ while maintaining some distance to retain the ‘outsider’s or the etic perspective’ (Harris 1979). Often, the combination of emic and etic perspectives can serve to bridge the gaps between local and external actors’ needs, wants, desires, agendas, and interpretations.
- Identify Endogenous Factors and Contingencies: Ethnographers usually gain valuable insights into local complex dynamics and develop ways to identify endogeneity (confounding variables, casual loops, interdependency) and contingency (history, accident, randomness) in social processes and trajectories.
KEY APPLICATIONS & POTENTIAL LIMITATIONS
- Gain firsthand valuable insights into local complex dynamics
- Not easily conducive to quantitative or statistical analysis
- Not easily scalable, generalizable, or transferable