Definition of Ethnography: Usually based on participant-observation and occasioning in an inscribed account of a people, place or institution, Ethnography is the recording and analysis of a culture or society.  The ethnographic study concentrates on a certain feature of contemporary social life (ethnography sociology); such as new reproductive technologies, the meanings of the veil, virtual communication, or being a Manchester United football club fan. The term is now sometimes used more loosely in for example opinion and market research which indicates the development of the concept of ethnography within social anthropology.


According to the definition of ethnography; Ethnographies as transcripts propose excellent understanding into how the fieldwork of ethnographic study is undertaken by social anthropologists, the way they make themselves aware of an unfamiliar environment and the involvement of political, economic and social undercurrents in the collection of data. Ethnographic research can serve as excellent means for teaching about global issues such as climate change, migration, and globalization by providing specific and in-depth case studies.

To learn about how social anthropologists conduct ethnographic research and the ethnographic research methods they use, and how they reflect on their own and one other’s experiences in the field; Reading good ethnographies is the optimum way.


Ethnography qualitative research method
 is used by anthropologists to describe a culture. There are many definitions of culture, but it usually consists of ancestries, ethics, humanity, and material items affiliated with a particular group of people. In ethnographic research, therefore, a variety of aspects and norms of a cultural group to enhance understanding of the people being studied is attempted to be described in detail.

While performing ethnography qualitative research, the procedures of the collection and analysis of data should be elucidated by the researcher. Certain dimensions should be documented during observation. These contain the space or the physical layout under investigation and the bits and pieces in the environment.

For ethnography examples, objects in the library might include the bookcases, the number of books, book records, listings, and furniture. All the people present in that particular environment should also be acknowledged. This includes everyone from obvious employees, i.e., librarian, assistants to the occasional repairman and the number of readers sitting in the library. The activities and actions, as well as the timing of events, should be documented when observing the people.

A clear description of the culture studied should be provided by the findings of an ethnography sociology study. Typically, to present major findings, themes are used. Just as with other types of ethnographic research methods and qualitative methods, the role of the researcher in the participation of the culture, his/her background should be mentioned. Moreover, ethnographic research findings should be confirmed by members of the cultural group under observation.


Common types of qualitative research methods/approaches are given below:

  • Ethnographic Research
  • Study of history
  • Analysis of content
  • Emergent strategies/approaches: RRA, PRA, FGD, Farming Systems, Discourse analysis, among others.


In these ethnography examples the research methods, techniques, and tools usually engaged are:

  • ‏Interviewing
  • The observational technique, including participant observation
  • Case study
  • Participatory Action and Learning technique
  • Group process methods


In the early periods of a user-centered design project, ethnography is most beneficial. The reason for this is ethnography emphasizes on evolving an understanding of the design problem. Therefore, to conduct ethnographic studies at the beginning of a project makes more sense to support future design pronouncements.

To evaluate an existing design, Ethnographic methods (such as participant observation) could also be used.  However, developing an early understanding of the relevant domain, audience, processes, goals, and context of use brings out their factual value. Ethnographic methods are used for very complex and critical design problems that are likely to need the deeper understanding which only ethnographic studies can convey. Equally, significant ethnographic research is justified by highly critical systems where failure or error can lead to disaster.


Helping, identifying and analysing unexpected issues is of the main advantages associated with ethnographic research. It can be very easy to miss unexpected issues when conducting other types of studies, which are not based on in-situ observation. This can happen either because questions are not asked, or respondents overlook to mention something. The in-situ presence of an ethnographic researcher helps alleviate this risk because is makes the issues more direct and apparent to the researcher.

The amount of time they take to be conducted is one of the main condemnations razed at ethnographic studies. As deliberated above, a longer period is not always required by the ethnographic research, but this consideration is valid on the other hand. An ethnographic study will tend to take longer to produce and analyse its data than many other methods because of its richer output. We found during previous ethnographic studies that it is possible that subjects may not act naturally during a short study. The previous statement can be counter-acted by longer studies, as the subjects start trusting the researcher during longer studies.

As indicated above, researcher observing and/or interacting with subjects within the environment of which the (future) design is intended to support includes ethnographic studies. Ethnographic studies are marred by the two main potential weaknesses:

To avoid all the potential pitfalls of an ethnographic study, ethnographic researchers need to be very highly-skilled.  Detail & extensiveness of observations, as well as potential bias and mistakes in data collection or analysis, are some of the qualities that a researcher must possess.

It is essential that any studies’ subjects are as true a representation of the larger user audience as possible. It is also essential that the subjects are open and upright with the researcher. Of course, both of these issues are related to the quality of the researcher and their role in the study’s design.

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