Class Discussion Board: Ethnography Self-Reflection

Message no. 3 posted by Marshall Kitchens on Tue Jan 08, 2002 08:52

Consider the following questions and complete the research assignment. Be prepared to write your response to the subsequent prompt in class on Thursday.

Research Assignment: What is ethnography? Why would one want to do it? What are its advantages and disadvantages as a research methodology? What should one look for? What precautions might one take?

Look back over notes from previous classes, look through anthropology and qualitative research texts, browse through the articles on the course home page. Perform your own google search or library search for information. Be sure to consider more than one source.

Develop and post notes about your process of researching these questions.

Andrij Hnatiuk
Thu Jan 10, 2002 10:52

10:15 I am trying to remember what I previously thought of in regards to ethnography.
Ethnography according to the World Book encyclopedia is defined as a branch of anthropology that produces scientific descriptions of contemporary cultures. I now wonder what the people working for World Book consider contemporary culture. With this definition I feel as if I took three steps backwards in the quest to define ethnography.

10:25 I feel as if I am making progress narrowing down my definition of ethnography. Previously I believed that ethnography is the study of communication between beings, which do not have a recognized written language. I suppose that my definition based on speculation is too specific. I suppose ethnography could be applied to any field of study or anything.

10:32 what's ethnography? I am staring at the printer hoping it would spit out the answer.

10:38 Flipping through the introduction of the book.

10:40 second paragraph "…ethnography is especially daunting, for you have little or no knowledge of the discipline, and probably have seldom or never ventured outside your own subculture". It is true that I do not have the knowledge, but on several occasions I have ventured outside of my subculture. What is the discipline the author speaks of? This is beginning to scare me.

10:46 well it seems that I took one-step forward. That puts me two-steps behind from where I started. Ethnography seems interesting because it is not limited. I have always found it interesting to observe the customs and traditions of other people. With the freedom however, there is a lot of room for error. In order to conduct accurate research you have to stay impartial. It is really easy for my thoughts and feelings to affect my attitude.

Lindsay Salisbury
Thu Jan 10, 2002 10:56

After reviewing the suggested website, I am coming to the understanding that ethnography is a form or method of studying a way of life. One might want to engage in this type of study to learn about a different culture and way of life from their own. One advantage, I feel, is that ethnography allows us to actually engage in a different way of life. A disadvantage for someone doing the actual field work may be the time it takes to complete it and/or the differences he would have to adapt to. These differences might be the precautions one would take before doing the work. It seems that it would be helpful to have knowledge for preparation of all the differences you may run into.

Elizabeth Roycraft
Thu Jan 10, 2002 11:02

January 8, 2002

10:30 a.m.- I'm sitting in 240 DHE with about 5 other students from my ethnography class, and the professor has just left. I browse some of the websites that are linked to the class homepage…. Specifically the cocktail waitress ethnography and the homepage listing Spindler's criteria for a good ethnography.

5:30 p.m.- I just woke up from a nap induced by Theraflu, and I still feel a bit groggy. I decide that now is as good a time as any to get started on my homework…. so I'm looking over my books from past anthropology and sociology classes, because I know I have some dealing specifically with what ethnography is. I flip through The Professional Stranger and Cultural Ethnography (not sure if that is the exact title, and I forgot the names of the authors of the previous two books). I also browse through James Spradley's book called The Ethnographic Interview.

The Professional Stranger and The Ethnographic Interview give fairly detailed descriptions of how to go about doing an ethnography. Spradley's book is all about one aspect of ethnography, and I figure if I ever need pointers on how to go about interviewing someone, I will start there. The Professional Stranger is the type of book that one has to read, and not simply use it as a reference, so I lay that aside. The Cultural Ethnography is a better reference book, in my opinion…. It describes various aspects of an ethnography, such as word groupings, participant observation, interviews, etc. And then it supplements the descriptions with various short ethnographies on everything from the kitchen staff in a restaurant to third graders at play.

… It is now about 45 minutes later, and I stop to eat dinner.

January 9, 2002

12:00 p.m.- I just got out of my 10:40 a.m. class, and I am in the basement of Kresge Library checking my email. I decide to check on the discussion board for this course, and to look at a few more sites dealing with ethnography.

12:30 p.m.- I'm trying to print up the Simplified Guide to Ethnography, but this is not working out, as there is some sort of problem with the printer. I decide to just read the site and get on with my life.

January 10, 2002

10:47 a.m.- Now I'm sitting back in 240 DHE working on my paragraph dealing with what ethnography is….
Based upon what I have found, I think that ethnography is the study of any given group of people - be it a tribal group, a church group, or even one class. The point is, the members of the group that is under study have something in common with all the other members of the group… even if it is simply membership within the group. There are many ways in which one can study a group. There are the usual interviews and questionnaires, and there is also participant observation. The goal of the researcher is to be able to describe/ define the group to outsiders wishing to better understand this particular group. The researcher can do this by using the words of the group itself, and defining what these mean to others. These descriptions can be done purely for the sake of research, or to try to understand the mindset of a group…and possibly construct some sort of social program to help it (obviously, this would be used if the group was in some sort of conflict with the society surrounding it, such as that of drug users, etc.).

Lindsey Larkin
Thu Jan 10, 2002 11:39

1/8 8pm (In my dorm room, with low lighting, music playing in the background, sitting in front of the computer) Re-read the Webct discussion board assignment and then went to the link offered on the page. Out of all the links offered, I was first drawn to student field notes, interviews, and ethnographies at Occidental College. I visited the site and began to look at the student's projects. I thought it might be good to see example to help me understand what ethnography is. I got lost on the website. I read a lot of the student assignments and final ethnographies. I was particular interested in the one on ultimate Frisbee and ended up reading the student's final paper. I found it to be fascinating, I think I learned from these examples that the writing used a lot of descriptive language and talked about things that normally people wouldn't pay attention to in a certain social setting or group. Her final paper, the ethnography of her team and their activities seemed to be an in-depth description of the group that discussed different relationships and events in the group. I was wondering how correct or how good of an example this were, since it student written. Near the end I felt that I had wasted an hour and a half on the example and felt bad that I didn't go look at something more concrete, like the definitions or something on the other websites.

1/9 11am (Walking to class at Oakland University, people all around me walking in different directions, in from of the library) I all of a sudden thought of a book I read for a class a long time ago. It reminded me of what an ethnography would be like. The book was called Gender Play, by Thorne, I think. It surprised me that I remembered the book after so long. I remember really enjoying the book because it was about just daily life, everyday things that children were doing in the playground. She seemed to take these everyday things and use the mundane, things people might overlook to explain some things about gender.

1/9 10 pm (In my dorm room again, quiet, peaceful, music playing softly in the background) I suddenly remember another book I read that could be an ethnography. It was called Ain't No Making it. It was by Mcleoud, or something like that. It was basically a study of two groups of high school students. I found it interesting looking back on it now and wondered if he became part of their lives, or they new he was observing them. I wondered how he built their trust, and elicited some of the information that he collected.

1/10 9am (In my dorm room, warm, and quiet, I'm at the computer again looking on the websites for the definition and explanations of ethnography) I found that it is a qualitative method that using interviews and observations. It uses a lot of description. I also started thinking about some strengths and weakness. Mainly the use of case studies as both a strength and weakness.


I found that ethnography is a qualitative research method. It is often used in cultural anthropology. Research questions about the link between culture and behavior or cultural processes over time are best answered by using ethnography. It uses observations and interviews to study a particular place, group of people or subculture, or event. Ethnographies only focus on a small number of cases, which is both one of its strengths and weakness. The ethnographer wants to gain an insiders point of view on the group or situation by being cognizant of your own biases. It seems an ethnographer is the middle person, transcribing what they see and hear into writing. One of the goals of ethnography is to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange. This means taking nothing for granted in a familiar social setting, and at the same time finding some basic cultural similarities across the board.

Monica Kurpinski
Mon Jan 14, 2002 22:14

Ok, finally my computer scan drive is finished and I can get going on my definition and current understanding of what ethnography is and what it means to me.....

7:53pm.~ looking up website suggested by the professor. I am now reading the definition that states ethnography is "the analytic description and examination of a cultural setting, a subculture or event". I then read on further into the site and come upon yet another definition that says it is the "fundamental research method of cultural anthropology/a written text produced to support ethnographical research results.....

8:24pm.~ stop to have some dinner and take in the information i just read while trying to think about which area i agree with the most and how I can produce my own definition....

8:41pm.~ return to the computer to finish what I started before I ate my (late) I continue to look up more definitions of the word in different sources online and in the dictionary, I find that all the definitions are different and yet the same. They seem to share some commonality...thats it! This relates directly to ethnography which I have finally concluded is the "up close and personal"-so to speak- study of human cultures and their behavior relative to other cultures. How exactly can this be achieved? In my opinion it takes more than what meets the eye,and requires getting personally involved in any new environment that one wants to understand. It is not only observing but actively being involved to fully understand both the differences and similarities in any given culture.

Michelle Kurpinski
Sat Jan 12, 2002 12:40

Friday January 11th, 2002: 8:01 p.m. ~ I finally decide to get caught up on all that I have missed in this class. I hop on my computer and go to the webct to see everything that I need to do.

8:11 p.m. ~ I read the email containing a list of things to do, and try to post a response to the Introduction, but for some reason my computer doesn’t seem to be cooperating.

8:23 p.m. ~ I ask my mother why this is happening and find out, after the fact, that my brother was on the computer using Kazza earlier and must have been downloading stuff, which explains why my computer is so slow at the moment.

8:30 p.m. ~ I look and sure enough my brother has some downloads going on, so I decide to be nice, let them finish and just do the assignments tomorrow.

Saturday January 12th, 2002:

11:36 a.m. ~ I’m at work right now, and don’t have too much to do, so I decide to attempt the assignments once more.

11:40 ish ~ I write and post my response to the Introduction, in between people asking annoying questions at work. Can’t they see I’m busy? Oh well, I’m happy, one down, only two more things to go.

12:00 noon ~ Ok, I tried to go onto the class web page, but for some reason it’s not working. I guess I’ll try again later.

12:15 ~ YEAH! I realized the reason the web page wasn’t working was because of the parenthesis that were included in the address. Once looking over the web cite a little more, I’ve come to notice that there is a lot more to the field of ethnography than one might think. In not so many words, I think that ethnography is the study of cultures, not just the findings, but how you went about your research and what you did to reach the conclusions you came to, maybe in order to help future research in possibly the same area. There’s so much to a culture, so the list of what you can learn/find is seemingly endless, in my opinion. As far as why someone would want to do it, that again has endless possibilities. For instance, one might just be curious about the culture they were brought up in and might want some answers to things like, why they have certain beliefs, or rituals, or maybe even sayings. How is their culture different than others and why? Did other cultures influence theirs? As I said, the list is endless. The thing about ethnography, that can be seen as both a disadvantage and an advantage is that the possibilities on what you can find seems endless. There’s so much to learn, it’s amazing. On the flipside though, it seems like it could also be very overwhelming if I were a researcher in this field.