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Essential Elements of Ethnography Research

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Data Analysis
Wordcount: 1847 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Ethnography can be a fantastic way of conducting qualitative research! In reference to the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (2008), ethnography refers to an anthropological record that describes the culturally significant behaviors of a particular society. Some cultural elements that may be studied include the following: traditions / rituals, belief systems, religious impacts, language variations, moral values, and additional contexts of behavior. Other forms of cultural evidence can also be beneficial, such as: artifacts, oral histories, sacred texts, and various art forms. The researcher has the hefty task of gathering an extensive amount of information, meticulously evaluating the details, and developing a narrative that highlights the themes revealed.

Essential Elements

People of the same racial and ethnic group can exhibit many similarities as well as factors of diversity. It is important for the researcher to decide if ethnography is an idealistic fit for the execution of a desired study. An incentive can help motivate potential participants to be part of a study, such as a monetary reward, gift card, or other expressions of gratitude. If ethnography is indeed appropriate, the researcher must select a population to work with and gain access to the distinct cultural group through explicit permission and informed consent. The researcher will indulge in total immersion with the participants through one-on-one and group experiences for an extended period of time.  The goal of this immersion is to develop a systemic framework of the cultural viewpoints, facilitating the emergence of common themes. Data is obtained from naturalistic observations, transcribing what is observed, interviewing the participants, and making sense of what is learned through scholarly resources. It is helpful to have a sizeable group of participants when possible to gain a vast amount of knowledge from various perspectives. The results section of an ethnographic study may be filled with complex narratives, incredibly detailed imagery, as well as personal perspectives that can help a reader live vicariously through the participants and researcher.

Ethical Considerations

Many people do not wish to be studied and they may or may not be transparent about their earnest feelings about a study / researcher.  Participants may wish to know how they can personally benefit from the study or request to know exactly what has been written about them in the final draft of the research report. Some distinct groups are particularly sensitive to outsiders and there is a strong degree of cultural awareness that must be present to be able to interact respectfully with them as a researcher. If it is a cultural group that the researcher is not familiar with, doing some research to increase knowledge about them can assist with the shock immersion and better understanding what might be expected. An ally that can be a bridge between the researcher and the participants from the distinct cultural group can be are you so way to encouraged positive social relations. It can be helpful to know what the cultural group finds to be offensive, such as: certain hand gestures, things considered to be poor etiquette, and words that carry a heavy historical context.  Language barriers can be particularly intense an interpreter and maybe needed if the researcher cannot adequately communicate with participants. It is crucial for participants to understand informed consent, limits of confidentiality, and the researcher must keep in mind that literacy may be an issue.  It is important for participants do not feel judged during the observation process and for the researcher to be considerate during the immersion process.  The researcher should carefully examine any personal biases that may contribute to and inadequate flow of information because these biases can get away of effectively interacting with participants, which can greatly influence the data. Legal concerns can present an ethical dilemma, especially if the researcher is traveling out of the country of origin or if there are specific guidelines that apply only to a certain geographic location.


Ethnography can be exceedingly time consuming and require extensive funding. The researcher will likely have to be completely devoted to the study and may not have time to work a full-time job in addition to the demands of the research. It can be challenging for the researcher to produce a narrative report for the results section of the study that fully grasps the experience, in a way that easy for those that were not present to understand. The researcher will be faced with the difficulty of leveraging the responsibility of the scientific method and conducting scholarly research with attempting to fit in with participants. It is best to intend to do no harm to participants by avoiding triggering them and exhibiting ethical consideration.

Application of Ethnography: Wang (2013)

In reference to Wang (2013), there are several components to an ethnographic study. The researcher found that an ethnographic study can be particularly valuable for understanding how political and ethical dilemmas influence the field of education, seeking to comprehend the ideology of existing professional relations and how research validity could be better comprehended. Over a period of six months living on campus an international school in mainland China, Wang observed the student participants twice a week as the teachers taught their lessons, taking diligent notes to carefully capture the real-time interaction. An unstructured interview protocol was designed to gain insight about the students’ experiences and to facilitate communication among the participants. The researcher utilized this particular method because it enhanced introspective thinking and allowed the respondents to speak freely. The head of the school suggested that Wang be temporarily appointed as an “associate lead teacher” for the study because it was believed that this would help convey a position of authority to aid in the facilitation of the ethnographic data and it assisted with illustrating a unified bond with the school. In terms of ethical participation, Wang wanted to convey a message of “aspiration” to participate in the study, rather than “obligation” with the intention advocate for mutual trust and respect from a humanistic perspective.  The researcher was able to build a bond with the purchase that encouraged reciprocated benefits between them, such as the joy of getting to know one another well and gaming personal enlightenment from exchanging stories. The researcher struggled a bit with the way that students perceive her, especially since she was youthful, had language barriers from being a non-native English speaker, and exhibited a “student-like” image with personal characteristics.  She sought to portray a professional image by changing her hairstyle and wearing clothing that was appropriate for a teacher. Wang found that the participants’ self-disclosure was limited when other participants were around. In terms of self-disclosure as a researcher, Wang advocates for utilizing discretion and discernment. Wang (2013) stated: Bearing the ethical minefield in mind, I continuously reminded myself to have a lasting and keen sensibility to others’ feelings, while at the same time maintaining a self-reflexive stance. This quote captures the researcher’s awareness of the commitment to the study and genuinely seeking to compassionately comprehend the experiences of participants. Since an ethnographic study is particularly in-depth, Wang decided not to reveal who the participants were to protect their anonymity. The narrative aspect of the study was rich with information could reveal the identity of the participants, it was not sufficient to simply change the names in the study. Ownership of the data obtained in this particular study belong to the researcher and Wang did her best to remain attentive to the privacy of the participants involved, seeking to protect the authenticity of the study as an integral part of the process.

Appropriateness of Ethnography for Chosen Study

Ethnography does not seem to be an ideal method to study paranormal activity. The research goal for the study previously selected in Week One would be to comprehend the dynamics experiences of participants that encountered paranormal activity and implications associated with behavioral health.

Paranormal experiences are often isolated events, so it can be challenging to actually observe them as they are happening. Often, insight about paranormal events is conveyed through reflecting on retrospective happenings and seeking to make sense of what has occurred.  It seems that ethnography is more appropriate for a study involving regular cultural patterns. The power of a cultural framework when comprehending a narrative should not be underestimated. In a qualitative study about paranormal activity, it would be helpful to ask an interview question about the participants’ cultural perspectives because this can impact how an individual perceives an experience.

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Depending upon the exact circumstances, it could be scary and precarious for a researcher to volunteer for complete immersion during a study on paranormal experiences, although the scholarly value and validity of the study might increase with the researcher being present to witness these occurrences. It would certainly not be a study for the faint of heart. For instance, an ethnographic study on paranormal experiences might include living in a haunted compound among participants and the naturalistic observation of a paranormal phenomenon known to occur there. Since paranormal experiences do not always take place within a reliable / consistent time interval, an ethnographic study could mean a great deal of wait time for a researcher for an event that might not happen again. An ethnographic study has more to do with


  • International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. (2008). Ethnography. Retrieved from https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/anthropology-and-archaeology/anthropology-terms-and-concepts/ethnography
  • Wang, X. (2013). The construction of researcher–researched relationships in school ethnography: Doing research, participating in the field and reflecting on ethical dilemmas. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, (26)7, 763-779. http://dx.doi.org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.1080/09518398.2012.666287


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