What is Ethnography and how to use it

Originated in the field of anthropology, ethnography is a qualitative research method that has immersion […]

Originated in the field of anthropology, ethnography is a qualitative research method that has immersion as its main feature. It requires the researcher to immerse in a particular group, or community, to observe their behavior and interactions, for example. The answer to the question, “what is ethnography?” has not changed, but the way people perceive it definitely has.  

The stereotypical view people had on ethnography was usually about the researcher living with an isolated community for a long time in order to understand them. Today, though, ethnography is a common approach in many areas and is used to study communities inside the researcher’s own society as well, not just isolated cultures. In market research it can be used to investigate consumer behavior, for example.

Pros and Cons

The main advantage of ethnography is that, with it, the researcher can directly observe the group, its behavior, and habits. Because of the immersion, the researcher is able to collect more authentic information as he or she watches or even participates in spontaneous interactions of that group.

One of the cons, though, is that it can take a long time. The whole process can take at least a few weeks, if not months, to be finished, between the researcher’s immersion in the group, the observation, data collection and analysis. For that reason, ethnography requires professionals who will be committed for a long time, as well as very careful planning.

The types of ethnographic research

Firstly, ethnographic research can happen in an open or closed setting. An open setting has “no barriers” for someone to enter, like a specific neighborhood, or a group of fans. A closed setting is a little harder to access, like a business or a school.

Secondly, ethnography can also be overt, which is when the researcher tells the members of the group what he or she is doing. Covert ethnography, on the other hand, means that the participants are not aware about the research. The researcher does not tell them what is happening, so they don’t know they are being part of a study.

Finally, there are also two types of observation: active and passive. In active observation the researcher is totally immersed in the group, like any other normal member. When the researcher needs to perform a passive observation, he or she is simply observing the group’s interactions, not getting involved in any of the activities.

As has been noted, ethnography requires a lot of time and careful planning, but can be extremely valuable. This is only one of the many qualitative services we offer here at Smart Research, serving as foundation for important adjustments and overall success of our partners. We are very proud to be the help our clients need, and will definitely continue to do so for many years.