Ethnography is a research method which basically intends to study culture through close observation and active participation.

This method is also known as ethnomethodology or methodology of people. It focus on studying socio cultural phenomena of a community. The ethnographer/researcher collects information regarding the socio-cultural phenomena from a lot of people belonging to the community under study.

Purpose of Ethnographic Research

The purpose of ethnographic research are as follows

  • It helps in cross cultural analysis.
  • It helps in analysing the past events or the history of the culture.
  • It helps in studying the behavior, experiences and attitudes of individuals in a more natural environment.
  • Close observation increases the chances of validity in the reports and theory formulated.

Types of Ethnographic Research

There are many types of Ethnographic Research which are as follows-

  • Macro Ethnography: It is the study of broadly defined cultural groupings such as – ‘the Indians’, ‘the Turkish’, etc. The common perspectives are studied at a more larger level which are found to be common under a more broader strata.
  • Micro Ethnography: It is the study of more specific cultural groupings such as the ‘local government’ and the ‘terrorists’.
  • Emic Perspectives: It is the ethnographic approach under which the viewpoints and responses of the ‘ingroup’ or the members of the culture under study are noted down.
  • Etic Perspectives: It is the ethnographic approach, under which the viewpoints and responses of the ‘out groups’ or the members who do not belong to the culture under study are studied.

Steps of Ethnographic Research

Following steps are followed in ethnographic research

  1. Selection: The ethnographic research begins with selection of a culture. The researcher selects the culture/community or population according to his/her interest.
  2. Review of Literature: Then the researcher reviews the literature pertaining to the culture to get a brief idea and historical sketch of the culture selected for study.
  3. Identification of Variables: The researcher then identifies variables which interest him or her as well as the members of the culture that needs to be explored.
  4. Entry: The ethnographer then tries to enter the culture and gain the acceptance of the members of the culture.
  5. Cultural Immersion: Ethnographers live in the culture for months or even years which they have chosen to study. The middle stages of the ethnographic research involve gaining informants, using them to gain yet more informants in a chaining process.
  6. Data Collection: After gaining the confidence of the respondents, the researcher collects information in the form of observational transcripts and interview recordings and tapings.
  7. Development of Theory: After analysing the data, the researcher formulates theory on the basis of interpretation of the results and reports achieved.

The ethnographic researcher tries his/her best to avoid theoretical preconceptions and formulates theory on the basis of the perspectives of the members of the culture and observation. The researcher may seek validation of induced theories by going back to members of the culture for their reaction.

Use of Ethnography in Psychology

Ethnography constitutes a major focus in the psychological literature; however, debates continue regarding the usage of this qualitative methods. Despite the fact ethnographic research fall within the purview of post-positivism and constructivism-interpretivism frameworks, positivists, postpositivists and postmodernists who the currently argue over the definition of ethnography and criteria for evaluating ethnographic work.

Despite the conflicts and changes that emerge out of difference philosophical approaches to ethnography, ethnographic research have had and continue to have, a major impact on topics often considered to be within the purview of counselling psychology (e.g. vocational development).

Stewart advocated the usage of ethnographically informed research in psychology. She noted that ethnographic research are ‘compatible’ with the ‘methodological values’ of most psychologists. Although researchers in social work and in social and community psychology advocate the use of ethnographic research, there is paucity of published ethnographies in counselling psychology. Counselling psychologists’ focus on relationship and integration of contextual variables with respect to culture is advocated and evidenced throughout much of the literature in our discipline. Greater efforts are needed in counselling psychology to incorporate ethnographically informed research methods in studies with diverse communities.

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