Activities and Principles of Ethnography

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In it’s the most characteristic form it involves the ethnographer participating, overtly or covertly, in people’s daily lives for an extended period of time, watching what happens, listening to what is said, asking questions – in fact, collecting whatever data are available to throw light on the issues that are the focus of the research. Equally, though, as we shall suggest later, there is a sense in which all social researchers are participant observers. and, as a result, the boundaries around ethnography are necessarily unclear (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1995, Pg 1-2)One difficulty with the notion of ethnography is that it may seem a residual category. It is associated with the study of people, not ourselves, and with the use of methods other than those of experimental design and quantitative measurement. Clearly not everything that is not experimental design and quantitative measurement should be considered ethnography, but a positive definition is not easy to provide. A major reason for the difficulty is that good ethnography has been produced under a great variety of conditions, by a great variety of persons, some of it before there was a profession to train such people, and professional training has been very much a matter of the transmission of a craft and of learning by doing—by personal experience (Gubrium amp. Holstein, 1997, Pg 67).It has not helped that some people talk as if the key to ethnography were a psychological experience, rather than the discovery of knowledge. It is clear that ethnography involves participation and observation.The earliest work that we recognize as important ethnography has generally the quality of being systematic in the sense of being comprehensive. To be sure, any and all early accounts of travelers, missionaries, government officials and the like that may contribute information.