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CHAPTER 15 Ethnographic Research: Its History, Ethnographic Methods, and Research: Theories. Its History, Methods, and Theories
Chapter Preview ¢ How and Why Did Ethnographic Research Evolve? ¢ What Are Ethnographic Research Methods? ¢ How Is Research Related to Theory?
Components of Cultural Anthropology There are two main components in Cultural Anthropology 1. Ethnography -A detailed description of a particular culture primarily based on fieldwork. 2. Ethnology -The study and analysis of different cultures from a comparative point of view. Each taking place in various areas throughout the world from postindustrial societies to small communities.
Traditional vs. Modern Ethnography ¢ ¢ Historically most anthropological research took place on far reaching societies where little to no information was known about the peoples and their culture. These early ethnographies were a focus on the life ways of these non-industrialized communities which were thought to soon disappear by “civilized” nations. Modern ethnography has changed focus towards documented dying cultures and changing cultures in the face of globalization and forced assimilation.
Urgent/Salvage Anthropology ¢ ¢ During the past several hundred years with expanding western domination many cultures have become extinct or are on the verge of extinction do to a violent history. Since anthropologists can not stop violent or forced cultural changes they have tried to document what is left of these endangered cultures through a technique known as urgent anthropology: ethnographic research that documents endangered cultures.
Acculturation Studies ¢ ¢ ¢ Similar to urgent anthropological studies are acculturation studies. Indigenous or native cultures that come into contact with more dominant cultures often change drastically. These changes cause cultures to adapt quickly to a new way of life such as abandoning native languages, religious beliefs, or social practices. Leaving these societies in despair and poverty unable to survive in the new forced culture.
¢ ¢ Since the 1930’s famous anthropologist Margaret Mead pioneered the first acculturation study with the Omaha Indians of Nebraska. These studies will document changes in the face of the new cultures while documenting the traditional way of the culture as it might have been pre-contact.
Applied Anthropology ¢ ¢ ¢ Acculturation studies gave birth to applied anthropology-the use of anthropological knowledge and methods to solve practical problems in communities confronting new challenges. Governmental officials whom earlier had begun programs to assimilate native cultures into mainstream culture quickly realized they were faced with larger problems. The begun to enlist the help of anthropologists to develop government programs to reduce poverty, promote literacy, and other issues.
“Culture at a Distance” ¢ ¢ During WWII and the Cold War, anthropologists were unable to study some cultures especially those in warring areas. Several prominent anthropologists began a technique of studying “cultures at a distance”. They would focus on the analysis of newspapers, literature, photographs, and films. This information was sometimes use as propaganda and psychological warfare for countries at war.
Peasant Studies ¢ ¢ ¢ Peasantry represents the largest social category of our species so far. They fall into a category between modern industrial society and traditional subsistence foragers, herders, farmers, and fishers. Because peasant unrest over economic and social problems fuels political instability anthropological studies of rural populations are considered significant and practical. Anthropologists began to focus in on the smaller scale indigenous communities to offer insight on how to deal with peasants resisting challenges to their traditional way of life
Advocacy Anthropology ¢ ¢ Some anthropologists have gone beyond just studies of peasant cultures and become an advocate for them. This is known as advocacy anthropology: research that is community based and politically involved. These anthropologists are committed to social justice, humans rights, and the preservation of ethnic minority culture.
Multi-Sited Ethnography ¢ ¢ In the world of globalization there is a new trend in ethnographic research known as multi-sited ethnography: the investigation and documentation of peoples and cultures embedded in the larger structures of a globalizing world, utilizing a range or methods in various locations of time and space. More recent emerging techniques in multi-sited ethnography are greater interdisciplinary approaches to fieldwork. These will bring theoretical ideas and research methods from cultural studies, media studies, and mass communication.
Ethnography: Research Methods ¢ ¢ Ethnographic fieldwork is best defined as extended on-location research to gather detailed and in-depth information on a society’s customary ideas, values, and practices through participation in its collective social life. The first important question to be answered is what site to research?
Site Selection ¢ ¢ Anthropologists primarily research cultures outside of their own, in a foreign country. This is based on the idea that studies done in one’s own culture might bring biased to the research due to the familiarity with the group or culture being studied. Research will require several questions to be asked such as: l Finding funding l Securing permission to research l Deciding what focus the research will take
Accurately Describing a Culture ¢ ¢ To accurately describe a culture an anthropologist needs to seek out and consider three types of data: 1. The people’s own understanding of their culture and the general rules they share. 2. The extent to which people believe they are observing those rules. 3. The behavior that can be directly observed. There are many techniques that ethnographers rely on to answer these questions.
Research Methodology ¢ There are many facets to researching a new culture or cultural practice that the ethnography will use: l Acceptance l Participant Observant l Key Consultants l Quantitative & Qualitative Data l Interviewing l Mapping l Photography & Filming
Informed Consent ¢ ¢ It is essential that ethnographers receive informed consent which is a formal recorded agreement to participate in research. When it is a challenge to obtain informed consent, or even impossible to precisely explain the meaning and purpose of this concept and its actual consequences, anthropologists may protect the identities of individuals.
Participant Observation ¢ The most significant aspect of ethnographic research is participant observation. A research method in which one learns about a group’s beliefs and behaviors through social participation and personal observation within the community, as well as interviews and discussion with individual members of the group over an extended stay in the community.
Key Consultant ¢ ¢ In order to gain insight into the culture a particular member might be utilized. Often these informants or key consultants will be a member of the society being studied, who provides information that helps researchers understand the meaning of what they observe. They may also provide vital information to the ethnographer about the history of the group.
Data Collection ¢ ¢ ¢ There are two main types of data collection used in many types of research. Anthropologists utilize both of these: Quantitative- Statistical or measurable information, such as demographic composition, the types and quantities of crops grown, or the ratio of spouses born and raised within or outside the community. Qualitative- Nonstatistical information such as personal life stories and customary beliefs and practices.
Interviewing ¢ Ethnographers must be consistently engaged in conversation throughout their research. This is the single best way to understand what people think about their own culture as well as the world around them. These conversations may take two approaches: • Informal interview • An unstructured, open-ended conversation in everyday life. • Formal interview • A structured question/answer session carefully notated as it occurs and based on prepared questions.
Eliciting Devices ¢ Apart from traditional techniques of interview, data collection, and the use of a key cultural consultant are eliciting devices. These techniques can be activities or objects that can be used to draw out individuals and encourage them to recall and share information. l Taking a walk l Asking about particular stories l Share details of one’s own childhood or a fond memory. l Pictures
Challenges of Ethnographic Fieldwork ¢ Ethnographic research creates a tough challenge in itself. Often anthropologists must face personal challenges while trying to adjust to a new culture and conduct fieldwork. Among the numerous mental challenges anthropologists commonly face are l Culture shock l Loneliness l Feeling like an ignorant outsider l Being socially awkward in a new cultural setting.
Challenges of Ethnography ¢ Physical challenges typically include but are not limited too: l Adjusting to unfamiliar food, climate, and hygiene conditions. l The need to be constantly alert to relevant conversations that are significant to one’s research. l Ethnographers must spend considerable time interviewing, making detailed notes, and analyzing data.
Challenges of Ethnography ¢ Social & political challenges typically include but are not limited too: l The need to gain acceptance within the community. l Issues involving the researchers age, skin color, ethnicity, religion, or gender. l Being the center of rivaling groups while trying to maintain a neutral position.
Completing an Ethnography ¢ Upon completion of the data collection in the field the ethnographer must begin to piece together their information. Written ethnographies are more traditional but certainly not the only method to document the data. Digital photography is the method by which the use of audio and visual technologies can be used to collect and analysis the information collected.
Ethnohistory ¢ ¢ This is a type of historical ethnographic study by which a culture(s) of the recent past is explored through oral histories, accounts of explorers, missionaries, and traders, and through analysis of records such as land titles, birth and death records, and other archival materials. This type of research is great for building theories regarding culture change. l In science an explanation of natural phenomena, supported by a reliable body of data.
Description vs. Theory ¢ ¢ Once an ethnography is complete so begins the interpretation of the information collected in the field. It is necessary to understand how descriptions can develop into interpretations. Theories are not usually ascertained by the researcher due to the nature of the data (nonscientific) rather they focus on the probability of certain aspects of the culture. Researchers might rely more heavily on the doctrine of a culture: an assertion of opinion or belief formally handed down by an authority as true and indisputable. Also known as dogma.
Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) ¢ ¢ ¢ In science a single instance of a phenomenon is not enough to support a hypothesis- let alone a theory Anthropological theories are formulated from worldwide cross cultural comparisons throughout history. The Human Relations Area Files help to make this happen.
HRAF ¢ ¢ ¢ HRAF is a vast collection of cross-indexed ethnographic and archaeological data catalogued by cultural characteristics and geographic locations. Archived in about 300 libraries (on microfiche and/or online). They include: warfare, subsistence practices, settlement patterns, marriage, rituals, etc.
Anthropology’s Theoretical Perspectives ¢ ¢ ¢ Ethnographers will typically fall into one of two categories for their fieldwork. Idealist perspective l A theoretical approach stressing the primacy of superstructure (ideas & values) in cultural research and analysis. Materialist perspective l A theoretical approach stressing the primacy of infrastructure (material conditions) in cultural research and analysis.
Suggested Activities ¢ ¢ Students often overlook the importance of learning ethnographic research methods because it can be difficult to apply them to a real life scenario. There are several techniques that can help the student better understand the importance of research techniques and how ethnographers gain insight into their fields of study. Below are two activities that can help the student to apply what they have learned. One activity is short and can be completed in 1 -2 class periods depending on time. The other is best used as a research project and can take up to 4+ weeks to complete.
Short Activity (20 min-1 hour) ¢ ¢ Have the students pair off or place them into pairs. Allow each student to conduct an ethnography on the other through interview. Ask them to first write a series of questions about what they would like to know about the other student. Give the students free range with their questions but suggest that they ask both personal and impersonal questions. Class discussions afterwards can focus on how easily their informant (interviewee) answered the questions and what ones they felt uncomfortable with. Touch on concepts dealing with gaining acceptance, interview techniques, as well as observation, etc.
Longer Activity (several weeks) ¢ ¢ ¢ Have students chose a topic to research that is something they are unfamiliar with but might be interested in learning about. l Such topics might include: Religious ceremonies, clubs, rites of passage, local activities, etc. l Once students have chosen a topic (1 -2 weeks) Give students a rubric of focus. Generally they should attend the function (participant observation), interview people whom are involved in the function or event (interview) and describe what they see. The focus will be for the student to conduct their own miniethnography and then either submit a paper on the ethnography or present it to the class.
¢ ¢ I have found that students will seem lost in the beginning but urge them to really think out side of the box, generally they will come up with amazing topics of research. I typically do not discourage any research provided it is done in a safe environment and remains on topic with an ethnographic focus. Keep the students focused throughout the research by having them ask the five “w”’s l “Who” practices this? practiced? l “Where” is this practiced? l “Why” is it practiced? “What” is “When” is it