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Ethnography: Definitions


From Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology
As a written account, an ethnography focuses on a particular population, place and time with the deliberate goal of describing it to others.

Bronisław Malinowski among Trobriand tribe

Picture of Bronislaw Malinowski with natives on Trobriand Islands, ca 1918.

Image Source retrived from:


Ethnographic Research

  • Case Study
    From Key Concepts in Ethnography
    A case study investigates a few cases, or often just one case, in considerable depth. In ethnography, case studies are used in various ways to illuminate themes or draw inferences.
  • Coding
    From Key Concepts in Ethnography
    Coding is a euphemism for the sorting and labelling which is part of the process of analysis.
  • Reflexivity
    From Key Concepts in Social Research
    Reflexivity is the practice of researchers being self-aware of their own beliefs, values and attitudes, and their personal effects on the setting they have studied, and self-critical about their research methods and how they have been applied, so that the evaluation and understanding of their research findings, both by themselves and their audience, may be facilitated and enhanced.

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What is Ethnography?

An Ethnography IS:

  • A FIRST-HAND, descriptive, written account of a particular culture or group, focusing on a particular population, place and time, and all with the goal of accurately describing that culture or ethnic group.
  • This first-hand account is produced through participant observation of the culture or group.
  • It can be either book-length or article-length.

An Ethnography is NOT:

  • Produced second-hand from first-hand accounts.
  • Simple opinion or observation reports without an analytical component. Examples of such reports include travel accounts, short newspaper or popular magazine articles, articles written for general readership like those in National Geographic, and letters to the editor.

From: University of Arizona (2013). What is an ethnography? Retrieved from:


Dr. Susan Vincent from the StFX Anthropology Department offers a more in-depth definition of ethnography which can be found in the document below:

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  •    Keyword: ETHNO*
  •    Subject:   ETHNOGRAPHY     

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  • From Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology
    There is a troubled relationship between the representation of anthropological fieldwork and the actuality of any particular fieldwork. In sober fact, fieldwork can take as many forms as there are anthropologists, projects, and circumstances.
  • Content Analysis
    From The A-Z of Social Research
    Content analysis involves the description and analysis of text in order to represent its content. This takes the form of enumeration, such as counting the frequency of words and the number of column inches, and more qualitative assessment of the words and terms used, as undertaken in certain forms of discourse analysis.
  • Fieldnotes
    From Key Concepts in Ethnography
    Fieldnotes are the written record of the observations, jottings, full notes, intellectual ideas, and emotional reflections that are created during the fieldwork process.
  • Genealogical Method
    From Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology
    The method required extensive interviewing of named individuals in order to: (1) collect vital statistics among a non-literate population, and (2) record their pedigrees, which reflected rights and responsibilities relating primarily to descent, succession, and inheritance.
  • Interviews
    From The A-Z of Social Research
    Interviews are one of the most widely used and abused research methods. They provide a way of generating data by asking people to talk about their everyday lives. Their main function is to provide a framework in which respondents can express their own thoughts in their own words.
  • Participant Observation
    From Key Concepts in Ethnography
    Participant observation is the main method of ethnography and involves taking part as a member of a community while making mental and then written, theoretically informed observations.

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