(Angrosino) Projects in Ethnographic Research, Chapters 4 & 5 [Sophia]

Angrosino, M. V. (2005).  Projects in Ethnographic Research. Waveland Press.

Chapter 4

Ethnographic Observation


Ethnography research involves observation.  Ethnographers insert themselves into the everyday lives of those who are being studied. Formative theory guides researchers in deciding what to study.  Angrosino (2005) defines formative theory as “nothing more than the explanatory framework that guides one in the initial approach to a new setting” (p. 34). Modifications may be made as the research progresses. Once the researcher narrows their observational focus by means of formative theory, they are able to begin the actual process of observation. Observation becomes data once it is recorded in a retrievable method. Ethnographers usually do not rely on memory. Although the setting may be familiar to the observer, observations should be recorded in a way that is presumed to be foreign. Documentation of everything during the initial stages of observation is suggested.  Observation notes should include who, what, where, and when. Answering the why may take place as the researcher gains familiarity.

Field note recommendations:

  • Supplement field notes with visual aids.
  • Field notes should be kept free from interpretation (see table below).
  • Identify participants using pseudonyms in the field note and follow the sequence of events.
  • Date and categorize information.

Keep Field Notes Free From Interpretation



“The people were carried away with religious fervor at the church service.” “People were singing, shouting, and dancing during the church service.”
“The hospital room was cheerful.” “The hospital room was painted yellow and was decorated with flowers and balloons.”
“The students were frustrated with the teacher’s explanation.” “The students were fidgeting and kept glancing at one another.”

Record personal interpretations in a journal (not in the field notes).

Types of observations include unobtrusive, structured, and unstructured observations. Unobtrusive observation takes place when there is minimal researcher participation and is often structured. Participant observation is usually unstructured.  Relying on memory is required for participant observation.  Documentation of the observation takes place after the observation is complete.

Chapter 5

Ethnographic Interviewing 

            Ethnographic research consists of interviewing techniques that are different from the more familiar ways of conducting an interview. Angrosino (2005) states that exploratory interviews “probe issues of concern that the researcher believes to be important to the study but about which little is known” (p. 44). These types of interviews involved in-depth and open-ended interviewing techniques. Life history and oral history are two forms of exploratory ethnographic interviews. This type of interview may seem unstructured. It requires patience, persistence, attentiveness, logical thinking, and exceptional communication skills.

There are times when exploratory interviews produce insight that requires a focused interview called a semi-structured interview. Semi-structured interviews consist of predetermined questions related to a specific topic. Question ordering is not a concern in exploratory interviews.  It is recommended that the researcher follow a continuous question sequence in a semi-structured interview.

Possible Discussion Questions:

  1. How does useful observation take place?
  2. List an example of an exploratory interview that may need a semi-structured interview component.  Why would it be important to include the semi-structured interview in the example you provided?
  3. Why might the author suggest asking questions beginning with the most concrete and working up to the most abstract in a semi-structured interview?
  4. How might you avoid/decrease cultural nuances of questions during an interview?

9 thoughts on “(Angrosino) Projects in Ethnographic Research, Chapters 4 & 5 [Sophia]

  1. Recording just the facts observed is one way to perform useful observations. Sometimes, one may want to record one’s own opinions or thoughts regarding an event that is observed. However, that is not useful as it taints the investigation/research.

    As I read this synopsis, I recalled my experiences as a Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) Provider. Part of the BTSA program includes an observation component that relies heavily on collecting observed factual evidence of instructional processes. The BTSA Support Provider (mentor teacher) collects evidence during an informal classroom observation of a lesson delivered by a BTSA Participating Teacher (mentee). Afterwards, the BTSA Support Provider and BTSA Participating Teacher have reflective conversations using the evidence that was collected.

    This process is very informative for the Participating Teacher and for the Support Provider because it reinforces just how effective best teaching practices are on student achievement.

  2. During my dissertation I will set up exploratory interviews to gauge each participants self-perception, and these interviews may need some semi-structure to them to ensure the interviews will have similar key points to look for patterns in. With the uncertainty of the direction these interviews could go, there should be some sort of bank of open-ended questions that each interview should have. The questions initially need to be more concrete to establish the patterns between respondents and as the interviews progress the questions become specific and abstract to each specific interview.

  3. Decreasing the amount of cultural nuance in questions asked during an interview is difficult. At the same time, a researcher wants to prompt responses that are on point and vivid, but at the same time research ethics and the need for objectivity requires that you cannot steer a conversation. Avoiding the use of culturally-loaded terms generally means not being able to ask the questions you really want to ask. Getting around this means piloting questions beforehand, and having multiple sets of eyes go over the questions you have prepared before you use them.

  4. List an example of an exploratory interview that may need a semi-structured interview component. Why would it be important to include the semi-structured interview in the example you provided?The project that Mike and I did this summer for Buster’s class was an example of this. Our client wanted us to explore what was behind the perception of low self-esteem in FUSD by interviewing the people who had participated in the original interviews for the Great City Schools Report. That is a very exploratory question. In order to get to the essence of that questions, we developed semi-structured interview questions. We had 7 or 8 questions that were very similar but tailored to parents, community members or educators. We found often that people answered our questions through a lengthy narrative after our first question. However, having the questions in front of us to guide us, helped us stay on track and ensure that we collected the right kind of information from the interviewees.

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