Qualitative Research Methods Part 4 of 4: Ethnography

In parts one, two, and three of this series, we’ve covered these qualitative research methods: focus groups, in-depth interviews, and qualitative observation. Now, in part four, we’re moving on to the ethnography method of research. This article (the last of the series) will explore this qualitative analysis method’s benefits, drawbacks, and other considerations.

What is the Ethnography Method of Research?

Ethnography is a research method that involves the researcher immersing themselves in the day-to-day lives of their research subjects. This is meant to help them gain a deep understanding of their cultural norms, social dynamics, and human experiences. 

Derived from cultural studies, the ethnographic method emphasizes the importance of understanding the perspective of the subjects and analyzing the cultural and social interactions within their natural environment.

Unsurprisingly, the ethnography method of research is particularly time-consuming compared to most other qualitative research methods. Often spanning months to years, researchers must observe and interact with people in their natural environment for an extended period—this is a potential drawback of this approach. 

We’ll discuss this and other drawbacks and benefits of this method in greater detail later in this article.

How is Data Collected in the Ethnography Method of Research?

The primary method of data collection in ethnography is through participant observation. In this approach, the researcher actively engages with research subjects, often living among them. They observe, participate, and even become part of their daily routines. That way, they can collect data in real-time and gain insights into their experiences’ subtleties.

Advantages of Ethnography as a Research Method

There are many advantages to using ethnography as a research method, some of which include:

1. Deep understanding

Ethnography provides a profound comprehension of social interactions, cultural norms, and the complexities of human experiences. Because ethnographers spend so much time with their subjects, they can gain deeper insights into that group or society’s underlying cultural norms and social behaviors. 

2. Natural environment

By studying subjects in their natural environment, ethnographic research eliminates the artificiality often present in lab settings or other research contexts. In traditional research settings, subjects might behave differently due to the unfamiliar environment or the knowledge a researcher is studying them.

On the other hand, ethnography captures individuals in their day-to-day lives in settings they’re comfortable and familiar with. This fosters more genuine reactions, behaviors, and interactions. Ultimately, it offers a more authentic representation of real-life scenarios and cultural practices.

3. Unearth subtle insights

Being present for an extended period, the researcher discovers insights that shorter, more structured research methods might miss. Over time, they build trust, and participants become more relaxed and open. This usually reveals more profound layers of their beliefs, values, and behaviors. 

This article explores the benefits of qualitative research methods as a whole.

Limitations and Challenges of the Ethnography Method of Research

Of course, ethnography research is not without its limitations and challenges.

These include:

1. Time-consuming

Conducting an ethnographic study can be long, sometimes stretching over months or even years. This extended timeframe can pose challenges for researchers, especially when considering: 

  • The allocation of resources
  • Financial constraints
  • Maintaining an uninterrupted focus

Furthermore, the dynamic nature of social contexts means cultures and behaviors might change over the study period, requiring constant adaptation from the researcher.

2. Researcher’s presence

The researcher’s presence might influence the subjects’ behaviors and actions. This phenomenon, which we’ve discussed before, is known as the Hawthorne effect. It means people might act differently knowing they are being observed. As a result, the data collected might not truly represent the natural behaviors and interactions of the subjects. 

Balancing involvement with observation is critical in ethnographic studies to minimize this influence.

3. Ethical issues

Ensuring informed consent and addressing other ethical concerns can be more challenging in ethnographic studies than in other qualitative research methods. 

Due to the immersive and personal nature of this research, it’s particularly important for researchers to ensure the subjects are aware of their roles and rights in the study.

Additionally, the deep involvement of researchers may lead to challenges in ensuring privacy, maintaining boundaries, and dealing with unforeseen emotional or social conflicts that might arise during the study.

Ethnography in the Context of LiGRE

LiGRE’s platform is tailored for in-depth qualitative data analysis, making it an ideal tool for researchers conducting ethnographic studies. Its user-friendly features facilitate sorting, coding, and analyzing the vast amounts of qualitative data collected in ethnographic research, saving time and enhancing the precision of the analysis.

Frequently Asked Questions About Ethnography

Browse the frequently asked questions about ethnography we’ve answered below for even more information.

What is an example of ethnographic research?

A classic example of ethnographic research is Margaret Mead’s study of Samoan culture in the 1920s. She lived among the Samoan people, observing their customs, rituals, and way of life to understand their culture from an insider’s perspective.

What makes ethnography an effective research method?

Ethnography is effective because it allows researchers to gain a deep understanding of their subjects’ social dynamics, cultural norms, and human experiences by observing them in their natural environment.

Visit this post next to read about eight social science research careers in Canada.

What are the basic ethnographic methods?

The primary ethnographic methods include:

  • Participant observation
  • In-depth interviews
  • Collecting artifacts and documents related to the subjects’ lives

What is the ethnographic method of quantitative research?

While ethnography is primarily qualitative, some researchers might incorporate quantitative methods by collecting numerical and observational data, such as frequency counts of certain behaviors or events. However, at its core, ethnography is qualitative in nature.

Conclusion: The Ethnography Method of Research

Ethnography offers a holistic approach to understanding the intricacies of human experience and culture. With the support of platforms like LiGRE, researchers can analyze their ethnographic data more efficiently, making this time-consuming method more feasible and insightful. 

As the field of ethnography continues to evolve, researchers will likely find new ways to make the most of this powerful research method. Staying up to date on the latest QDA tools will help ensure you’re making the most of this and other research methods.

Use LiGRE today for free to see what our QDA tools can do for you and your research.

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