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The Ethnographic Interview
Transcript of The Ethnographic Interview
"the work of describing a culture” (3)
Learning from a people group rather than studying them.
To do this one must work to understand the culture from
and the viewpoint
of a person who is native to the culture.
While in the field of study the ethnographer must infer from three sources:
from what people say,
from the way people act,
and from the artifacts people use
“Ethnography is a culture-studying culture. It consists of a body of knowledge that includes research techniques, ethnographic theory, and hundreds of cultural descriptions. It seeks to build a systematic understanding of all human cultures from the perspective of those who have learned them” (9-10).
• Learning a language is essential to understanding a culture and being able to describe the culture in its own terms
• Subtle language differences may be some of the most important language differences between cultures
When the ethnographer fails to learn the native language and depends on interpreters they forgo the ability to really understand the thought process, how they perceive things and the assumptions they hold about being a human.
Six Types of Ethnographic Descriptions:
• Describing the ethnographic experience without question involves language
• The author has identified six various types of ethnographic descriptions:
Step 1: Locating an Informant
Skills needed by the ethnographer…
expressing verbal interest in the other person
showing interest by eye contact and other nonverbal means (46)
Step 4:Asking Descriptive Questions
Ethnographic interviewing involves two distinct, but complementary processes:
The Rapport Process:
Apprehension Exploration Cooperation Participation
The Ethnographic Interview
Group Presentation: Daniel, Casey, Dihanne, Byron & Tiffany
In order for to provide an accurate description of the culture the ethnographer must find informants to share the experience with.
An informant "is a native speaker engaged to repeat words, phrases, sentences in his/her own language or dialect as a model for imitation and a source of information" (25).
Requirements to be an Informant:
Informants must be:
native speakers of the language
provide a model for the ethnographer to imitate
teachers of the ethnographer and this teaching will lead the ethnographer becoming one with the culture
Step 2: Interviewing an Informant
Three Essential Steps for an Ethnographic Interview:
Ethnographic interviews always begin with a sense of uncertainty, a feeling of apprehension. The most important thing, however, is to get informants talking. When an informant talks, the ethnographer has an opportunity to listen, to show interest, and to respond in a nonjudgmental fashion.
Exploration: Both ethnographer and informant "try out" the new relationship. They seek to discover what the other person is like and what the other person wants from the relationship. Exploration is a type of listening, observing and testing.
Three Key Dimensions:
Make repeated explanations
Restate what informants say
Don't ask for meaning, ask for use
The Rapport Process
The Rapport Process:
Cooperation: Informants cooperate more fully based on mutual trust. Informant and ethnographer know what to expect of one another.
Participation: The informant recognizes and accepts the role of teaching the ethnographer. There is a heightened sense of cooperation and full participation in the research as the informant takes a more assertive role.
In ethnographic interviewing, both questions and answers must be discovered from informants.
There are three main ways to discover questions:
Ethnographer records the questions people ask in the course of everyday life
Ethnographer inquires directly about questions used by participants in a culture scene
Ethnographer asks informants to talk about a particular cultural scene. This approach uses general descriptive questions.
Typical: asks for a description of how things really are
Specific: questions about most recent day,e vent or lock best known to informant
Guided: asks informant for actual grand tour
Task: ask informant to perform a task that aids description
Same as the Grand Tour but on small unit of experience.
Take some example act or event identified by the informant and ask for an example. This type of question can be woven throughout almost any ethnographic interview
Ask the informants for any experiences they have had in some particular setting. They are best used after asking numerous grand tour and mini-tour questions.
Direct Language Questions: "How would you refer to it?"
Hypothetical Interaction Questions: Can be used to generate many native language utterances.
Typical Sentence Questions: Asks typical sentences that contain a word or phrase. Provides an informant with one or more native terms and asks them to use in typical ways.
Step 5: Ethnographic Analysis:
Analysis of any kind involves a way of thinking. It refers to the systemic examination of something to determine its parts, the relationship among the parts, and their relationship to the whole.
Ethnographic analysis: is the search for the parts of a culture and their relationships as conceptualized by informants.
Five Tasks of the Ethnographer:
Select a problem
Collect cultural data
Analyze cultural data
Formulate ethnographic hypotheses
Write the ethnography
Relational Theory of Meaning:
People order their lives in terms of what things mean. But what is meant by meaning itself? How do words and behavior and objects become meaningful? How do we find out what things mean?
Cultural meaning is created by using symbols: words, attire, facial expression, hand movements, culture, sounds, folk terms, ethnography, descriptive questions, etc. A symbol is any object or even that refers to something. It is anything we can perceive or experience
Symbols involve 3 elements:
The symbol itself
One or more referents (the thing a symbol refers to or represents)
A relationship between symbol and referent
Relational Theory of Meaning:
Meaning Systems: The meaning of any symbol is its relationship to other symbols.
Basic Assertions of a Relational Theory of Meaning:
Cultural meaning systems are encoded in symbols
Language is the primary symbol that encodes cultural meaning in every society. Language can be used to talk about all other encoded symbols
The meaning of any symbol is its relationship to other symbols in a particular culture
The task of ethnography is to decode cultural symbols and identify the underlying coding rules. This can be accomplished by discovering the relationships among cultural symbols.
Cover Term: Names for a category of cultural knowledge
Included Terms: Folk terms that belong to the category of knowledge named by the cover term. All domains have two or more included terms
Semantic Relationship: When two folk categories are linked together
Boundary: Every domain has a boundary
Select a sample of verbatim interview notes
Look for names for things
Identify possible cover terms and include terms from the sample
Search through additional interview notes for other included terms
Step 6: Making a Domain Analysis
Domain analysis begins by using semantic relationships to discover domains.
People express themselves by using terms that are linked together by means of semantic relationships
Semantic relationships allow speakers of particular language to refer to all the subtleties of meaning connected to its folk terms
Three Types of Semantic Relationships:
Taxonomy or inclusion (an oak is a kind of tree)
Attribution (an oak has acorns)
Queueing or sequence (an oak goes through the stages of acorn, seedling, sapling,mature tree, etc.
Making a Domain Analysis:
Universal Semantic Relationships
Informant Expressed Semantic Relationships
Includes all the general types of semantic relationships
Useful for beginning an analysis of semantic domains:
Strict inclusion: (X is a kind of Y)
Spatial (X is ap lace in Y, X is a part of Y)
Cause-Effect (X is a result of Y, X is a cause of Y)
Rationale (X is a reason for doing Y)
Location for action (X is a place for doing Y)
Function (X is used for Y)
Means-End (X is a way to do Y)
Sequence (X is a step or stage in Y)
Attribution (X is an attribute or characteristic of Y)
Usually a universal semantic relationship expressed in the idiom of the informant.
At times, phrases or sentences use universal semantic relationships, but it is embedded in longer sentences and must be extracted from that sentence.
At other times, it is not easy to identify universal semantic relationships in what the informant says. In such cases, it is best to work directly with some informant-expressed semantic relationship.
Six Steps in Domain Analysis:
Step One: Select a single semantic relationship
Suggestions for English-speaking informants
Strict inclusion (X is a kind of Y)-focuses on attention to nouns
Means-end (X is a way to Y)- focuses on attention to nouns
Step Two: Prepare a domain analysis worksheet
Worksheets require the following information:
Semantic relationship selected
Statement of the form in which it is expressed
Example from your own culture of a sentence that has an included term, the semantic relationship, and a cover term
Six Steps in Domain Analysis:
Step Three: Select a sample of informant statements
Step Four: Search for possible cover terms and included terms that appropriately fit the semantic relationship
Read with an eye for folk terms that fit semantic relationship
Step Five: Formulate structural questions for each domain
Enables ethnographer to elicit cover terms and included terms
Designed to test ethnographic hypotheses emerging from domain analysis
Ethnographer must know how questions are asked in the culture of study
Step Six: Make a list of hypothesized domains
Identify native categories of thought
Gain a preliminary overview of the cultural scene of study
Step 7: Structural Questions
Five principles to asking Structural Questions:
the concurrent principle
the explanation principle
the repetition principle,
the context principle, and
the cultural framework principle.
Five major types of structural questions
cover term questions
included term questions
substitution frame questions
card sorting questions
Step 8: Taxonomic Analysis
Steps to completing a Taxonomic Analysis
Step 1: Select a domain for taxonomic analysis.
Step 2: Identify the appropriate substitution frame for the analysis.
Step 3: Search for possible subsets among the included terms.
Step 4: Search for larger, more inclusive domains that might include as a subset the one you are analyzing.
Step 5: Construct a tentative taxonomy.
Step 6: Formulate structural questions to verify taxonomic relationships and elicit new terms.
Step7: Conduct additional structural interviews.
Step 8: Construct a completed taxonomy
Step 9: in-depth analysis:
Criteria to selecting a focus using an in-depth analysis:
Informant’s suggestions- includes allowing the informant to make suggestion about highly important domains.
Theoretical interest- folk domains and analytic categories of social science mesh well.
Strategic ethnography- the content identifies the situation and helps with the tools study the situation
Organizing domains- is identifying the main idea.
Step 10: Componential Analysis
Making a Componential Analysis:
• Componential analysis is the systematic search for the attributes associated with cultural symbols
• Componential analysis will pinpoint multiple relationships between a folk term and other symbols
• The general process for completing a componential analysis includes finding contrasts of a folk term, sorting them, grouping them with different dimensions of contrast, and then placing them in a paradigm
Steps 1-4 for Performing Componential Analysis
• Step 1: Electing a contrast set for analysis. This initial step is the gathering of the different types of possibility within a certain folk term
• Step 2: Inventory all contrasts previously discovered. This step is the creation of a list of the differentiating factors between the different contrasts of a folk term
• Step 3: Prepare a paradigm worksheet. This worksheet will have the spaces included to sort the contrasts, and spaces in which to place the different dimensions of contrast
• Step 4: Create dimensions of contrast which have binary values, which is to say values that can only be one thing or another
Steps 5-8 for Performing Componential Analysis
• Step 5: Combine dimensions of contrast that have closely similar values
• Step 6: Prepare new contrast questions based off of what information is in the paradigm
• Step 7: Conduct a further interview using the new information gathered, or in order to fill the gaps of information needed
• Step 8: Complete the paradigm once all interviews have been conducted
Step 11: Cultural Themes
Discovering Cultural Themes
• Step 11 discusses three objectives of ethnographic research: understanding the nature of themes in cultural meaning systems, identifying strategies for making a theme analysis, and carrying out a theme analysis on the culture being studied
• This step is focused more on the bigger picture of a culture, rather than the small details found when studying it
• Spradley lists cultural themes as any cognitive principle, tacit or explicit, recurrent in a number of domains and serving as a relationship amongst subsystems of cultural meaning
Aspects of Cultural Themes
• First: the cognitive principle is defined as the thought that runs through the mind of someone in a particular culture that they quickly and easily believe is true
• Second: tacit cognitive principles that are not always openly spoken about; conversely, explicit cognitive principles are the items and ideas that are generally given and accepted as true
• Third: a cultural theme is the bridge of connection between one or more cultural subsystems. This aspect of a cultural theme is helpful to connect the dots in a certain situation, giving the ethnographer an opportunity to piece together what is really happening, even if it is not explicitly stated at the time
Strategies for Creating a Theme Analysis
• First: Immersion - Immersion calls for letting oneself become completely invested into a certain culture, even if it means cutting off from another culture entirely
• Second: Creating a cultural inventory - This inventory is a list of items that can help organize data collected in ethnographic research
• Third: Perform a componential analysis of folk domains - This will put in an easily readable list information that can yield to the discovery of cultural themes
• Other options include: searching for similarities between dimensions of contrast, identifying organizing domains, making a schematic diagram of a cultural scene, searching for universal themes, writing a summary overview of a cultural scene, and making comparisons with similar cultural scenes
Step 12: Writing an Ethnography
• It is important to understand that while an ethnography will never be ‘complete’ in the sense that it will never need revision, it is still important to start writing rather than continually putting it off
• Reading other ethnographies is a way to improve writing skills
• Spradley supports the notion that the best way to learn hot to write is to simply write, as practice makes the best teacher
• Writing skills will help the discovery and documentation processes, and good writing skills will improve the ethnographer’s ability to communicate meaning
Levels of Ethnographic Writing
• Levels help move from the general to the particular
• Use the most general or most particular; middle values are not as valuable
• Six levels of writing:
Cross-cultural descriptive statements
General statements about a society or cultural group
General statements about a specific cultural scene
Specific statements about a cultural domain
Specific incident statements
Process for Writing an Ethnography
• Step 1: Select an audience
• Step 2: Select a thesis
• Step 3: Make a list of topics and create an outline
• Step 4: Write a rough draft of each section
• Step 5: Revisit the outline and create subheads
• Step 6: Edit the rough draft
• Step 7: Write the introduction and conclusion
• Step 8: Reread the manuscript for examples
• Step 9: Write the final draft
Five Minimal Requirements when
selecting an informant:
an unfamiliar cultural scene
All requirements may not be feasible, but they are ideal for a quality ethnographic interview.
explicit purpose: the ethnographer gives guidance to the informant as to where the interview is to go
ethnographic explanations: multiple parts including- project explanations, recording explanations, native language explanation, interview explanations, and question explanations
ethnographic questions: descriptive and structural questions
Mini Tour Question: when an interviewer asks an informant a hypothetical question to place the informant into a scenario for them to describe a cultural scene in vivid detail (66).
Ethnographic interviews differ from friendly conversation by:
balancing in conversing
repeating questions is normal
expressing ignorance or ignorance occurs frequently
ethnographer encourages expansion by the informant
Step Three: Making an Ethnographic Record
the basis for all ethnographic projects
Two Foundation Principles:
language identification principle- make distinctions in recording the interview to help prevent distortions [brackets], (parenthesis) or "quotations".
The Verbatim Principle: verbatim record of what people say
always have a small recorder ready
go slowly when introducing the recorder to the informant
be constantly aware of opportunities to use the recorder
Types of Field Notes:
condensed accounts: single word unconnected sentences or phrases
expanded accounts: expansions of condensed accounts after interview
Field Work Journal: records ethnographers own reactions and informants perceived reaction
analysis: ethnographers attempt to find a link between record and final written record
Chapter One: Ethnography seeks to enter a culture with the mindset of complete ignorance to learn and observe all things about this foreign people.
Chapter Two: Language in an ethnographic interview should be employed to describe and discover the culture being studied also using the native tongue
Chapter Three: The informant must be treated ethically, respectfully and with care by the ethnographer. Care for their identity and safety must be taken.
Step One: Locating a quality informant requires a relationship of thorough enculturation, involvement, unfamiliarity, time & a nonanalytic personality.
Step Two: The ethnographic interview has 12 basic elements to it. Each building off the last to enhance the speech event and bring clarity to the culture scene.
Step Three: Ethnographic records aids an ethnographer understand the culture scene better. It is a process of translating, analyzing & interpreting
Step Four: Rapport process, ethnographic ?s, & descriptive ?s R essential 2 ethnographic intervu. Descriptive ?s R backbone of ethnographic intervu
Step Five: Ethonographic analysis, relational theory of meaning, domain structure and domain searches are all tools for discovering cultural meaning
Step Six:Use semantic relationships 2 find domains. Domain & culture relevant structure ?s R found thru domain analysis using 6 interrel8ed steps
Step Seven: Structural questions a tool that help ethnographers to get into an informants head to see how they know what they know. #gathering data
Step Eight: Taxonomic analysis is a great system responsible for collecting research on why people do what they do. #taxonomic relationship
Step Nine: Ethnographic interview similar to census interview finding out we are all different but the same in our community. #contrast questions.
Step Ten: Componential analysis is the systematic search for the attributes associated with cultural symbols and their relationships
Step Eleven: Cultural themes = any cognitive principle,recurrent in a number of domains&serving as a relationship amongst subsystems of cultural meaning.
Step Twelve: Writing is an integral part of the translation process, which includes the two steps of discovering meaning and communicating meaning