Characteristics of ethnographic research design

What are the characteristics of ethnographic research design

Characteristics of ethnographic research design can be described as follows:

  • It is holistic in that it attempts to view the researched phenomenon from the perspective of every involved person.
  • It pays close attention to individual experience and takes context into consideration.
  • Data are collected through observation, interviews, and fieldnotes.
  • Ethnographers often live among people who are not familiar with Western ways of living for an extended period of time to develop rapport with them (most known method).
  • Ethnographic research is exploratory in nature; it attempts to discover rather than test hypotheses (most of the time). On this basis, ethnographers develop thick descriptions through extensive fieldwork.
  • Data are analyzed by applying themes or patterns that emerge from them.
  • This process is highly interpretive and may present some difficulties when trying to verify them with members of the culture.

Ethnographies often meet the criteria of positivism in order to confirm their findings on the researched phenomena. They are also mainly qualitative studies due to their interpretivist approach which allows researchers to produce more valid insights into human behavior than quantitative studies.

A recent study attempted to compare the quantitative and qualitative approaches in social sciences. This is what they found out: 'Quantitative research has focused on proving or disproving hypotheses, whereas qualitative research has focused on developing an in-depth understanding of how people behave.' This means that while both methods allow for valid insights into human behavior, they are structured in such different ways that comparing their results would be like comparing oranges with apples. Moreover, they might not even focus on the same phenomena.

Research design can place a special emphasis on certain characteristics of ethnographic research design over others depending on the objectivity/subjectivity preference of researchers involved in it. For example, a study which aims to explore public attitudes towards women's autonomy might emphasize the features described by Silvia (2011) in their research design.

The above mentioned characteristics are not necessarily used in conjunction with each other all the time. Ritchie et al., 2003 also stress that 'The choice of particular fieldwork techniques is affected by the project objectives and context.' The goal of researchers will determine which attributes are more important than others.

Reference list:

Creswell, J. W., 2009. Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches 3rd edn. SAGE publications Inc, US.

Silvia, P. J., 2011 . Defining Validity in Social Science Research: A Case for Triangulation Across Methods and Designs. New Ideas in Psychology, 29(2), pp.

Ritchie, J., Forsyth, B. & Atkinson, P., 2003 'The ethnographic research process.' In Denzin NK and Yvonna S Lincoln (eds.) Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials 2nd edn, Sage Publications Inc US p103-120..

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