Ethnographic Studies essay

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Ethnography is category of a vast methodology which employs mostly qualitative data collection methods. Data is collected through field unstructured surveys and discussions, classified and interpreted, and then presented in many forms according to the frame of reference of the researcher,

The main aspect of ethnography is participation of researcher in the situation under study. The researcher plays an active part in the study of an organization or a community. The credibility, qualification, and experience of researcher enable him/her to discuss human processes and interactions, as Coffey (1999: 254-255) identified that this method creates  the participation of researcher inside the situation to observe, interview and discuss with the subjects under study.

This paper concentrates on the special issues related with ethnography in collecting, analysing and writing field notes after the conduct of research. The various implications of this process have involved serious concerns like subjectivity of data, presence of researcher, data analysis criteria, and the contribution of research environment (Agar 1980). Human societies interactions and communication variables can vary the understanding and generate variety of expressions by researcher based on expertise and understanding of the situation. 

Production of Ethnography from field notes

There are no specific methods identified in recording and collecting information, participation of researcher is also subject to the situation. Though, with partial or whole participation of researcher, the particular data collection through communication, human interactions, and behaviour observation has proved to be useful in ethnographic studies. The main question arises that how the field notes produced through unstructured interviews and discussions to identify the key variables of the study.

For instance, field notes taken on my one day from the observation at the King Fahd hospital will be used in this paper as an example. I have to question the place of women allocated by patients waiting for clinic diabetes and obesity at the entrance to the reception.

I have observed 5 women in waiting room, two women were conversing to each other about waiting and delay in appointments. The woman sat next to me also started enquiring about my own experiences of waiting, and then she asked about why I was busy in writing since arrival. I had explained my purpose of coming and interviewing them for my study. Another woman also participated in the discussion and asked personal questions to disclose my identity. I told them about my name, subject, institution, and purpose of study in Saudi Arabia. After this initial interview, she and one other woman agreed with me and disclosed that obesity and diabetes spread very rapidly in Saudi Arabia due to high fat content in food.  They started sharing their own experiences of suffering from obesity and diabetes. Their mutual discussion identified many reasons of thee diseases included excessive eating, fat content of food, less movements, and need of proper excise. In this way I have observed, discussed, and retrieve data to research further from this field survey.

Presenting collected material in various ways

The unstructured data collected in ethnographic studies can be recorded in many ways. The manner of recording depends on the ways of conducting research and time of recording information. Information can be recorded at the end of the day or during the course of events in observations (Coffey and Atkinson 1996). The actual occurrence of events without any biased interpretation is basically required in presentation of collected material. The careful selection of data is necessary to avoid repetitions, limit the amount, and to maintain authenticity.

Feldman (1995: 120) presented a "big net" method of data collection by interacting large number of informants in a study. The maximum information can be collected with diverse point of views which can be filtered further. For instance, in my work of studying Saudi women with obesity and diabetes problem, I had talked as many women in the waiting room as were present. I have visited many times to various hospitals' OPDs to meet large number of respondents. I have used this approach to manage heterogeneity in types and problems of patients, establish long term associations with cooperative participants for future data collection, and to understand a large portion of Saudi population who suffered the same problems.

The issues faced during data collection and recording in my research included use of recording instruments, I have used tape recorders and note taking both in various situations. The initial rapport with the informants was also very useful to establish, but it has involved lot of extra conversations. Another important issue was hearing lot of patients' problems other than cause and treatment of their diseases. In these situations, tape recorder proved to be more useful as I had filtered unnecessary information from it afterwards.

Organizing and interpreting data

The recorded ethnographic data cannot be interpreted too early as various forms and modes of data are generated during the whole research process. The whole study should carry out before interpretation and analysis of collected data.  Some intermediary steps are involved like proper coding of data which labels every information item, data organization w.r.t codes in thematic or /and chronological patterns, interpret understanding of various themes, and decisions about mode of writing.

Conflicting or complementary nature of Interpretations

During the phase of data analysis and representation, many issues arise due to the complex nature of ethnography. Actually, iterative data analysis is done by using collected data from the beginning. Various forms of analysis are performed normally in same study for different forms of data. The researcher has to bounce back and forth again and again to draw the links between coded information.

Different interpretations of data can compliment or conflict each other depending on the understanding of situations and type of study. For instance, the studies performed in multi ethnic communities have different sets of culture and social norms with in a single population. Researcher interprets the information differently in context of each ethnic group, which can create conflict in interpretations of final results. According to Fetterman (1989: 101), 'Crystallization' of analyses generate when similarities of interpretations focus on relevant and important parameters for researcher. The research design and analyses should conform to the triangulation of reliability, validity, and generalization of study.

In my own research, as data collected through audio tapes, field notes, informal conversations, and researcher's own observation,. Therefore the interpretation of all these mediums turns out to be different. They complement each other as data was analysed weekly and compared internally to remove any conflict of interpretations.  The focus of the study was the preventive measures of patients against obesity and diabetes.  Therefore every interpretation from different media was targeted towards this main goal. The conflicts were ignored and similarities were highlighted to increase the relevance and importance of objectives of study.         

Affects of Styles of Writing

The story format is normally used in writing of communities ethnographic studies, but different studies can adopt other patterns also like case studies, narrative essays, and straight forward reporting of events.  Therefore the imperatives modes for these writing formats are proposed by researchers as neutral format for case studies, thematic approaches for narrative descriptions, features focus in stories, and objective mode in report forms.

Obviously, ethnographic writings are real challenges for a researcher in disciplines of social sciences. Geertz (1973) used the expressions of 'thick' description for contexts and cultural backgrounds of the recorded behaviours, and 'thin' description for reporting present events without any context of surroundings.  The use of these two forms of writing depends on the complexity of study and diversity of the environment.

There are many difficulties faced by ethnographer in writing of interpretations like the amount of information included in final write up, relevance of the collected information with the main goal, and the aspects of the findings need to be highlighted (Beatty  2009:23). Researchers either miss certain parts of data which are not directly influence on the conclusion or can make separate reports to cater various needs of different audience.

In my example described above,  the dilemmas faced during the research writing were the variation in periods and seasons of data collection as the study extended to long period, heavy piles of data collected through different mediums, different findings with various respondents, the flow of information was different in every set of data. In this situation my focus of writing was to quote that information which was in line with my goal of study and all other relevant information need to be compiled in a separate report to assist for future study extensions.

Another dilemma in writing was my presence in every situation, I could not keep my self out of the interpretations as I have done moderation, probing, and giving directions to discussions. Van (1988) suggested that presence of researcher can destroy the goal of collecting unbiased, extemporal, and unaided information, and generates a possibility of deviating from their main goal of study. To avoid this impact, I have used informal dressing and language to mix with informants, and communicate with them casually to minimize my impact on the situations. To maintain the importance of my role in the above study, I gave my personal observations, actions, and comments along with the thin and thick writing of participants' responses. 

Subjectivity of Data

The subjectivity in ethnographic data collection and interpretation is a significant issue in managing the studies in complex environments. The level of detachment and involvement of ethnographer in the recording of field notes raised the problem of objectivity. Balance between interpretivist and positivism is based on the level of qualitative and quantitative techniques used in the study. Qualitative approaches are suitable to gain insights of complex behaviours in diverse environments, where as quantitative analyses are more accurate and provide precise means for hypothesis testing.

The role of ethnographers in this situation is proposed by Wolcott (1994.) to act and remain as close as possible to the core of the issues and based their interpretations on scientific and conceptual frameworks. In my own ethnographic study, I have come across the issue of subjectivity when I did not find any balance between objective and subjective frame works. Van (1995) suggested practicing a "disciplined subjectivity" in order to maintain the interactions of informants and affects of environment factors' balance. Peer reviews and team work can solve this problem of subjectivity in long term studies.


This research paper has not addressed all issues of ethnographic studies in social science, but main issues have been raised and discussed in the above pages. The possible impacts and solutions of these major issues arte presented with the help of scholarly work of the eminent researchers of the field.   The conclusion of this study is based on the points that ethnography is very important field of study for researchers in human civilizations and communities; it provides more liberty in collecting, recording, and interpreting information in informal environments.

The work of previous researcher and authors of books played an important role in proceedings of my own study discussed above. The concepts, theories, modes of working, and possible hindrances are provided in these previous researches and text books. I received a great help in conducting field research with the help of the techniques I have learnt from text books. Real experiences are bit different and would be treated as my individual contribution to ethnographic studies, but the role and importance of these authors cannot be denied for new ethnographers.

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