Angrosino, M. V. (2005). Projects in Ethnographic Research. Waveland Press.
Basic Principles of Ethnographic Research
Ethnographers are interested in studying people in their natural settings, which means that ethnographic research is conducted in the field rather than a lab. It requires personal contact between the researcher and the study community. In essence, the researcher becomes part (to the extent possible) of the everyday life of those being studied. Because the researcher seeks the perspectives and meanings held by the community, establishing rapport with those being studied is vital in order to conduct a successful study.
Ethnographic research is an “inductive inquiry”, which operates under the framework of “grounded theory.” This theory is based on the notion that this type of data generation is to conclude general theories. When working in an “open ended” field, without controlled variables, it is more practical to begin with general questions. This is opposed to “deductive inquiry” which is the process in which a researcher starts with an established theory from which a hypothesis is tested.
Ethnographic research seeks a holistic perspective, which means understanding the context of behavior and not simply the content of it. Ethnographer studies people in the settings in which they actually live, work, and play. The research does not simply record acts or expressions, but also how those fit together as to constitute a culture. To that effect, there must be recognition of cultural relativism, which is the assumption that all culture is meaningful and useful and that it is neither good nor bad, it just is. Additionally, ethnography researchers look for answers to social and cultural questions and become part of the everyday life of the people being studied in order to establish real friendship and rapport. Essential to rapport is mutuality, which is when the researcher reciprocates what he or she is asking those being studied to do.
Because of past abuses in research, the Federal Government began mandating Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) in the 1970s. Ethnographers must respect the people they study and protect their dignity. Informed Consent is the process of giving human subjects enough information to make the decision if they would like to participate. Confidentiality is principle of protecting the privacy of individual participants.
Site Selection and Other Practical Considerations
UNIT OF ANALYSIS
A unit of analysis is another way to describe the research field. It can be a city, neighborhood, family, agency, school district, etc. In order to be a workable unit of analysis, the researcher should select a unit that is locatable (in real space of virtual space) and bounded (people must be connected is some fashion and not scattered).
To select an appropriate study, there are three basic criteria that researchers must take into account: logistical, definitional and conceptual.
- Select a unit that is close by
- Can do observations without running cost
- Single researcher vs. coordinated team?
- Can be done in a time-efficient manner
- Any potential barriers to entry?
- How can the group be bounded?
- Are there sufficient numbers of people in the unit to make the study worthwhile?
SOME PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS
- Do I need special permissions to enter the community?
- Will I need any supplies to carry out research?
- Will I need special equipment?
- Do I need to make special arrangements for work and living space?
- Do I have the kind of clothes considered appropriate?
- Do I need to make arrangements for transportation?
It is desirable to enter the field “cold,” to see if anyone is interested in participating, but researchers can also work to identify those inside the community who control access (gatekeepers). It is prudent to have some preparation, as some people will claim to access to a particular group, but really don’t have that power.
SOME PERSONAL CONSIDERATIONS
A “good” ethnographer is:
- Able to think conceptually
- Culturally sensitive
- Have you ever done research in the field? What were the conditions like? How did you gain access?
- Are there benefits into going to the field “cold”?
- Looking at the “personal considerations” above, do you have what it takes to be a good ethnographer?