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Ethnographic Methods

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Ashley Vaughan

on 6 September 2017

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Transcript of Ethnographic Methods

Ethnographic Methods

Culture shock:
the feeling of uncertainty and anxiety an individual experiences when placed in a strange cultural setting.

Also loneliness, lack of confidence

Illness, etc...

Issues in Field Research

1. Age:
2. Gender:
3. Education (grade level completed):
4. Religion
5. Marriage status
6. Number of people in household
7. Number of children
8. Head of household?
9. Occupation
10. Previous experience with malaria:
11. Children’s experience with malaria:

Example of a Survey


Based on participant observation

While doing participant observation or immediately afterward

Handwritten or typed

-Cross-cultural comparisons

-Compare information collected by previous ethnographers

-Testing hypotheses by examining the statistical correlations between particular cultural variables, using synchronic data drawn from a number of societies.

Comparative Methods

An account of a key consultant’s life experiences

More Methods: Life History

Please describe what happened the last time you had malaria.

What are your thoughts on the health problems in your village?

Example of open-ended
interview questions

1) Please look over these cards and sort them into
piles, so that similar items are in piles together.
You can make as many piles as you would like.

2) After the informant has finished making their piles ask them
“In what way are these alike?Why are these together in a pile?


Pile sorting

Free listing

List all of the names of illnesses you know

Likert scale example

Illness severity
(The last time you got malaria, how severe was it?)

(5) very strong/strong tumas
(4) strong/strong
(3) medium/normal
(2) mild/normal o no strong
(1) very mild/no strong

Fieldworker elicits responses to prearranged questions.


Participant Observation
Immersion in the culture: fieldworkers participate in the daily lives of the people they are studying.

Experiential learning

Ethnographic Methods

1. Initial contact

2. Culture shock: the feeling of uncertainty and anxiety an individual experiences when placed in a strange cultural setting.

3. Discovering the obvious

4.The break

5. Exhaustion, the second break, frantic activity

6. Leaving the field

The Stages of Fieldwork

1. What is your general research topic?
2. Where are you thinking about conducting your research (your site)? Where are you going to conduct participant observation? Are there specific events that you want to observe?
3. Where/how will you find your consultants? Who may be your key consultant(s)?
4. What will your research methods be? Will you do structured or unstructured interviews? Cognitive methods? Life histories?
5. What will your research questions be? What do you want to find out?
6. What do you think the answer to your questions will be? These answers will help you formulate your thesis and analysis.
7. What are some potential interview questions? Share your answers to these questions with your group and ask for their feedback.
9. What do you think some potential answers to these questions will be? Use these answers to help you revise your thesis statement.
10. What is your thesis statement (main argument)?
11. What is your tentative title?
12. Write one paragraph describing your topic.
13. What are 3 concepts/theories you will use to contextualize your research
14. What are 3 topics that you will research?
15. What are three main points you will discuss in your report?

Gaining social acceptance

Identifying informants

Developing rapport (harmonious relationships).

Issues in Field Research

(collection and presentation of results)
Issues in Field Research

Group discussion on set topics

People with the same role/perspective
People identified as having different roles/perspectives

More Methods: Focus Group

Cognitive methods: pile-sorting,
free listing, and triads

Structured interviews– consists of a limited number of specific questions.

Best suited for collecting general quantitative data.

Example– age, gender, income, nationality, etc…

Structured interviews or Surveys

They gave me some holy oil to protect me; I was told that I should make a cross with it on my forehead and on my clothes before I go walk about; this was prompted by me saying I wanted to go see Frank again. Apparently his father practiced black magic, and the family is still "holding onto something;" that is why Frank's father "fell down dead," a brother too. Holy oil can also be used to help you do well on an exam, to make people talk kindly to you, etc.. For fishing, as well: Toni puts it on her hook; this makes it so she will always catch a fish
#religion #holyoil #ritual #cross #symbols #sorcery #Christianity

Saturday, right before Uncle Bo died, one year old Kimi put her hands over her face and made a sobbing sound; this is a sign that there will be a death. A "rubbish sign." She did it again today; everyone is worried now. Tom used to do such things, too, make bad signs. He would bury his toy men in the ground; sometimes he would bury himself, too. Also, he would kiss people too much; for instance, he kissed Pulu’s baby, who later died. Another sign that black magic killed our uncle: not just the black dog, but also, yesterday, while we were at the funeral, Toni heard our dog going after a strange man, who was not wearing a shirt; the dog wanted to kill him; they think the man was a black magic man, maybe the same one who killed our uncle (who had sent the black dog). Leonard still suspects George of black magic, too. He forgot to use his holy oil yesterday, and when George shook his hand, he was afraid.
#religion #sorcery #holyoil #signs

Leonard prayed for me three times today. He prayed that I forget what I’ve been taught in school about man coming from monkeys, that I let go of this "wrong thought;" he prayed that I become a good Christian and finish all of my work and make lots of money. He has known all along that I have doubts, that there was something wrong. My "fasin" (fashion/behavior) is good; I am very kind, but he knew something was missing (that I am not a believer). He will have Pastor Solomon pray for me, too. He quoted Genesis and John. God made the world; God made us in his image.
#religion #prayer #attitudestowardevolution #creationism #originstory #genesis #Christianity

Coding Field notes & Interviews
Research assistant

place or community in which you conduct your fieldwork

A member of a community who provides information to a fieldworker.

Key consultant/informant
Often an individual whom the local community considers to be an expert in a particular area.

Fieldwork Definitions

Ethnohistoric research-
examines the written accounts or other records about that group of people

Ethnographic fieldwork-
gathers firsthand information from the living members of the society

Sources of Cultural Data:

Defining the field worker’s role in the community

Short term or long term obligations

Issues in Field Research

Can you think of an example?
Would a survey be useful for your project?

What kind of survey would you write?

Handouts or online?
Ethno- culture

Graphy- writing
Questions to help you brainstorm for your final report
Quantitative Data
Quantitative: quantities, numerical data, statistics

Demographics: statistics of a population (number of men, women, children, age groups, ethnic groups, etc)

Survey data: education, occupation, etc...
Quantitative vs Qualitative
Qualitative Data
Open-ended questions and unstructured interviews

Unstructured observations

Diary entries

More descriptive, more difficult to analyze

Analyze not by measuring but by identifying themes and "coding."
Fieldwork Roles
1) Complete participant

2) Participant-observer

3) Complete observer
Participant Observation:
4 Reasons or Rationales
1. Allows for the collection of a wide range of data

2. Reduces reactivity: people are less likely to change their behavior. "Presence builds trust. Trust reduces reactivity."

3. Helps you figure out the right questions to ask

4. Helps you understand how to interpret your data, using your own experience and new found intuition ("
embodied knowledge")
Issues in Field Research:
How to Prevent Bias

Overcoming stereotypes

preconceived generalizations of a group that biases the way they are perceived and how their behavior is interpreted.

the researcher acknowledging their subjectivity and biases, etc…

1. Choosing a general topic and field-site
A. Fun?
B. Feasible?

2. Choosing a specific topic
A. What are you interested in?
B. What are your informants always talking about?
C. What do your informants want you to investigate?

3. Developing an initial hypothesis
A. Use your textbook and the lectures as a guide: what concepts can you use to analyze what you are observing and what people are saying?
B. Find out what scholars have written about your topic and see if you can test or build on any of their ideas.
Getting Started
Group Work
Have each person in your group share their project idea.

Where are you going to conduct participant observation?

What roles will you have? Will you be a complete participant, a participant observer, and/or a complete observer?

Are there specific events that you want to observe?

What are some potential interview questions?
Entering the Field
Use your personal contacts (if you have them)

Be prepared with an introduction (an explanation of what you're doing there). "I'm doing a project for my cultural anthropology class.."

Make friends first. Ask questions later. "Hanging out is a skill."

Get to know your the physical and social layout of the site
Helpful hints from Bernard
Learn the language or lingo

Build your memory and observation skills (this takes practice)

Maintain "naivete"

Recognize the difference between being objective and having no values ("value neutrality").

Realize that your ability to "suspend judgement" may be tested, that you may have to make some tough decisions, and that you may be powerless or unable to intervene (or that intervening may put you in danger)
More advice from Bernard
-Getting started

-Get the informant on the topic and "get out of the way"

Bernard: Interviewing skills
Types of interviews
Informal interviews:
informal conversations while "hanging out"

Unstructured interviews:
open-ended questions, hoping that the respondent will elaborate on the answers.

Semi-structured interviews:
using an interview guide with topics to cover

Structured interviews:
following a set of identical questions and instructions

Types of "probes"

1. The silent probe

2. The echo probe

3. The uh-huh probe

4. The tell me more probe

5. The long question probe

6. Leading probes/directive

7. Baiting
What do you do when someone gives short answers?

What do you do when someone goes off topic?
Advice from Bernard
Pace yourself

Use your intuition

Be yourself
Issues in Field Research:
How to Prevent Misinformation

Long-term fieldwork

using multiple methods to gather and check information
Anthropologists can study their own cultures, too
"Indigenous anthropology"
1. Patterns of Behavior
2. Knowledge/beliefs/ideas
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