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Ethnography, Autoethnography and Classic Research

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What is Ethnography?


Ethnographers study people from other cultures in their own environment.

Ethnography is the study of people in their own environment through methods like participant observation and face-to-face interviewing. According to ethnographer David Fetterman, this method gives a voice to people in their own local context, giving a complete description of events as they happen.

[Ethnography] is about telling a credible, rigorous, and authentic story.

There is a small, but important difference between ethnographic research and anthropological research:

  • Anthropological research involves all of the cultures on the planet,
  • Classic ethnographic research provides a detailed description of an complete culture outside of the researcher’s country of origin(Ingold, 2008).

Traditionally, ethnographers spend at least one year inside the culture they are studying, relying heavily on participant observation as the key data collection method. Other methods used include field notes, focus groups, interviews, and surveys.


In this research method, a researcher uses their own experiences to address a cultural, political, or social issue. This type of research can involve several researchers. For example, a group of immigrant women researchers conducted a study on how they navigated the U.S. Academy as immigrant women faculty (Ngunjiri et. al 2010). For the most part, autoethnography is considered a non-traditional ethnographic method.


Asad, T. (1994). Ethnographic Representation, Statistics and Modern Power. Social Research Vol. 61, No. 1. Retrieved January 6, 2021 from:
Atkinson, P. et al. (Eds.). Handbook of Ethnography 1st Edition. SAGE Publications.
Fetterman, D. (2009). Chapter 17: Ethnography. In The SAGE Handbook of Applied Social Research Methods.
Ingold, T. (2008). Anthropology is not ethnography. Proceedings of the British Academy, 154, 69-92.

Stephanie Glen. "Ethnography, Autoethnography and Classic Research" From Elementary Statistics for the rest of us!

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