Ethnography and Culture • B. Malinowski: “The goal of ethnography is to grasp the native’s point of view, his relation to life, to realize his point of view, his relation to life, to realize his version of his world.” • Ethnography is the description of a culture, i.e., the organization of social life from the insider’s (the “native’s”) point of view. Culture has three components: • Cultural BEHAVIOUR • Cultural KNOWLEDGE • Cultural ARTIFACTS
8 Stages of Ethnography (adapted from James Spradley) • 1. Locate a Social Situation • 2. Do Participant Observation • 3. Make an Ethnographic Record • 4. Make Descriptive Observations • 5. Make Focussed Observations • 6. Make Selected Observations • 7. Discover Cultural Themes • 8. Write an Ethnography
Locating a Social Situation • Any setting involving PLACE, ACTORS and ACTIVITIES can be a social situation for ethnographic study. • Criteria for selection: • Simplicity • Accessibility • Unobtrusiveness • Permissibleness • Frequently Recurring Activities • Strangeness (nb. this one is a matter for debate)
Doing Participant Observation • As an ethnographer, you are a participant observer, not an ordinary participant. Ordinary participants use and follow cultural rules TACITLY. Participant observers uncover these tacit rules. This is done through: • Explicit awareness • A wide observational focus • Record keeping
Making an Ethnographic Record • This step involves the process of translating field notes into information that reflects the cultural experience of the people you study. This entails making repeated observations and making those observations reflect the cultures in question and developing a better ear for cultural details. Three principles are involved: • The language identification principle • The verbatim principle • The concreteness principle
Making Descriptive Observations • Space • Actor • Activity • Object • Act • Event • Time and Timing • Goal • Feeling
Making Focussed Observations • You move beyond making descriptive observation to focussed observations based on your choice of domain to consider. This choice can be occasioned by one or all of the following: • Personal Interest: What in most interesting to you? • Suggestions by Informants • Theoretical Interests • “Strategic Ethnography,” or a political/humanitarian agenda • “Organizing Domains,” or what you observe to be the most important organizing principles in the setting.
Making Selective Observations • This step entails asking ordinary participants questions. This exercise is intended to clarify prior findings. Questions can be in the context of formal and informal interviews, and can be designed to address specific issues or to address those issues indirectly.
Discovering Cultural Themes • Spradley: A “Cultural Theme” is any recurrent principal, tacit or explicit, that expresses a relationship among subsystems of cultural meaning. AKA: Values, Cultural Rules, Focal Concerns, Core Symbols, World Views, Cognitive Orientations. • Cultural Themes reflect a culture’s commonly-held beliefs and experiences. • Discovering these entails searching for UNIVERSAL themes in you ethnographic investigation.
Writing an Ethnography • Good ethnography is not only about recounting details, but about expressing the large-scale and mid-level “truths” that the details support. For this reason ethnography notes the social implications of its specific findings in addition to relating those findings for its audience. • There are six levels of reality, from general to specific, that your ethnography can include for purposes of cultural illustration: • Universal Statements • Cross-Cultural Descriptive Statements • General Statements about a Society or Cultural Group • General Statements about a Specific Cultural Scene • Specific Statements about a “Cultural Domains,” or the expressions used by members to categorize their experiences in that scene • Specific Incident Statements