Is Ethnography a Suitable method for Research

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Is Ethnography a Suitable method for Research on Residential Satisfaction and Community Participation.

Ethnography within its wider field of research is described as the study of people’s behaviour in terms of social contexts, with emphasis on interaction in everyday situations (Lindsay, 1997). It is further defined as research that constitutes the art and science of describing a group or culture (Fetterman, 1989). However, the specific definition that will be used throughout this work, is that of its role within qualitative research, which is summarised by Wainwright (1997) in his paper in The Qualitative Report, stating that ethnography can be distinguished as:
“...the attempt to obtain an in-depth understanding of the meanings and ‘definitions of the situation’ presented by informants, rather than the quantitative ‘measurement’ of their characteristics or behaviour'; pp1.

The technique of ethnography is a holistic approach, in order to achieve a complete and comprehensive picture of a social group (Fetterman, 1989). There are two main techniques within ethnography, that is firstly, interviews, and secondly, observational methods of participant and non-participant forms (Goetz and LeCompte, 1984; Hammersley, 1990; Lindsay, 1997; Wainwright, 1997).

This discussion aims to analyse ethnography as a method of qualitative research and discuss its usefulness in a research question based around residential satisfaction and community participation. This will be achieved by analysing the main advantages and disadvantages of both methods of ethnography; that of interviews and observation techniques, with a holistic approach. Hereafter, assessment of the direct usefulness of the method relating explicitly to the two research variables of residential satisfaction and community participation. An overall critique summary and conclusion will follow this, on ethnography’s context and suitability in such a study.

The first form of ethnographic research is interviews. These are where a respondent is asked a number of questions by the interviewer, and the interviewer records the answers. Interviews can be of the in depth conversational type, which are like guided conversations, where the interviewer converses with the respondent; or the second type, which is a semi-structured interview in a format simi...

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...esolves, it depends on the particular set of circumstances. Ethnography in its very nature is ambiguous and very subjective. It does hold some form of relevance in sociological studies, although still, scientists will always question its relevance due to its qualitative nature (Hammersley, 1992; Wainwright, 1997).

Fetterman, D.M. (1989) Ethnography: Step by Step: Applied Social Research Methods Series Volume 17, Sage Publications, London.
Goetz, J.P. and LeCompte, M.D. (1984) Ethnography and Qualitative Design in Educational Research, Academic press Inc., London.
Hammersley, M. (1990) Classroom Ethnography: empirical and methodological essays, Open University Press, Buckingham.
Hammersley, M. (1992) What’s wrong with Ethnography?, 3rd edition, Routeledge, London.
Haralambos, M. (1986) Sociology: a new approach, Causeway Books, London.
Lindsay, J.M. (1997) Techniques in Human Geography, Routeledge, London.
Wainwright, D. (1997) Can Sociological Research Be Quantitative, Critical and Valid?, The Quantitative Report, Vol. 3, No.2, July 1997, Nova South Eastern University, School of Social Systematic Studies, on line:

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