Last week I attended a lecture on analysing ethnographic papers and considering ethnographic methods and designs. The focus was on education research, which isn’t directly related to my subject area, but nonetheless I found some useful aspects to apply to my work.
Now do bear in mind that before this lecture I had absolutely no knowledge of ethnography, and I wrote most of the ideas down in bed after a 12 hour day and a snooze inducing MacDonald’s (this PhD is doing my healthy eating efforts ZERO favours). I want to try and put down my understanding of the terminology and also explain how I think it could relate to my work, but it is kinda complex, so bear with me.
What is ethnography?
Our lecturer explained that, in Educational research, the term ‘ethno’ refers to a particular group or culture, and the term ‘graphy’ refers to a picture of something. Working off this definition, I understand ethnography as a research design which paints a picture, or tells a story about a particular group. A pretty wide definition no?! That said, the lecturer went on to discuss the different types of ethnography which are more defined.
Different types of ethnography
- Traditional – does what it says on the tin, and is usually at a fixed research site lasting 12 months or longer
- Fast – operate in a similar way to the traditional approach but over a shorter period of time, criticised for not being in depth
- Multi-site – this type follows the participants in their various environments, rather than sticking to one site
- Critical – displays underpinning assumptions about the group/culture which influence the research
- Digital – exploring a group or culture existing in a digital environment
- Auto – carrying out research about a group or culture which the researcher is fully a part of
Is my research ethnographic?
With these very pared down definitions in mind, I have been trying to think about my own work in ethnographic terms, and whether it fits a particular category.
In traditional terms, my work could certainly be viewed through an ethnographic lens, as it will concern a group of academics and will be carried out over more than 12 months. I expect much of the research will be done on campus, in research offices and university buildings, which could be classed as one site. There will also be a digital element to it, as some of the dissemination activities will be carried out in an online environment. The type of ethnography that really had me puzzling was critical ethnography – do I have underlying assumptions that will influence my research? And of course, the answer to the first part of that question is yes – we all make assumptions about groups and issues which we are interested in, and I am certainly no different. This really comes back to ontology – what is my underlying view of the world and how does this affect my research? In my case, I harbor the underlying assumption that one of the primary aims of research is to affect society in a positive and useful way, which in turn leads me to assert that demonstrating this impact is important and worthwhile. But does this make my work critical ethnography? I am really making assumptions about research as a whole, rather than making assumptions about the actual academics I am studying, so I am not so sure.
What do you think? Either way, I think some ethnographic theory will definitely be useful in my methodology chapter.