||Based on first-hand fieldwork, ethnography employs participant observation and other qualitative methods to convey the inner life and texture of a particular social group or locality. The staple method of social and cultural anthropology, ethnography involves the intensive study of other cultures over an extended period of time, whether \'at home\' or \'abroad\', in rural or urban settings. Through ethnography, anthropologists have shown how apparently \'exotic\' social practices and \'irrational\' beliefs can be more fully understood when interpreted in a contextual and holistic manner. Demonstrating how other cultures have their own intrinsic logic when approached as whole ways of life, ethnography is characterized by cultural relativism, opposing the ethnocentrism of those who regard other cultures as inherently inferior.
Originally focusing on \'traditional\' societies in far-off places, ethnographic methods have also been employed in contemporary urban settings (Jackson, 1985). Drawing on the work of the Chicago school of urban sociology and sharing a commitment to understand the city\'s moral order as well as its spatial pattern (cf. moral geographies), urban ethnographers have demonstrated the integrity of working class and ethnic minority cultures.
In contrast to questionnaire surveys and similar quantitative methods of social research (see survey analysis), ethnography aims for depth rather than coverage. As a result, ethnographic methods are often criticized for their lack of representativity, though this accusation betrays a misunderstanding of the reliance of such methods on logical rather than on statistical inference (Mitchell, 1983). In practice, ethnographers employ a range of strategies including triangulation and negative case analysis (Lincoln and Guba, 1985; Cook and Crang, 1995) to increase the credibility of their research. While \'ethnography\' is sometimes used as a synonym for a wide range of qualitative methods (from focus groups to in-depth interviewing), anthropologists have been critical of those who claim to use an ethnographic approach without taking on board a serious commitment to intensive fieldwork, often extending for a year or more, and frequently requiring the researcher to learn another language.
The ethics of ethnographic research have often been questioned, especially where covert methods of observation are involved. The fact that most ethnographers have chosen to study working class and ethnic minority communities, rather than those of higher social status, also raises ethical issues regarding the power of gatekeepers in providing or withholding access to those whom the ethnographer wishes to study (cf. Stacey, 1988; urban managers and gatekeepers). Given the disciplinary origins of the method, ethnographers have been forced to come to terms with anthropology\'s involvement in the colonial encounter (Asad, 1973), facing a crisis of representation in relation to those whose cultures they aim to represent (Marcus and Fischer, 1986).
Various alternatives to the traditional monograph or documentary film have been discussed (e.g. Clifford and Marcus, 1986; Behar and Gordon, 1995) as appropriate textual strategies for dealing with these complex issues of ethnographic authority. In some cases, informed by feminist research (see feminist geographies), these methods have been designed as ways of \'giving voice\' to those who have previously been silenced. Whether this can be achieved within the conventions of the western academy without distorting the lives of those who are represented has been the subject of intense debate (Spivak, 1988). Rather than focusing so much attention on \'exotic\' societies in far-off countries, ethnographers are now increasingly studying cultures that are closer to home, discovering the strangeness of more \'familiar\' locations such as restaurants and advertising agencies (Crang, 1994; Miller, 1997).Â (PAJ)
References Asad, T., ed., 1973: Anthropology and the colonial encounter. London: Ithaca Press.Â Behar, R. and Gordon, D.A., eds, 1995: Women writing culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.Â Clifford, J. and Marcus, G.E., eds, 1986: Writing culture: the poetics and politics of ethnography. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Â Cook, I. and Crang, M. 1995: Doing ethnographies. Concepts and Techniques in Modern Geography (CATMOG) 58.Â Crang, P. 1994: \'It\'s showtime\': on the workplace geographies of display in a restaurant in southeast England. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 12: 675-704.Â Jackson, P. 1985: Urban ethnography. Progress in Human Geography 9: 157-76.Â Lincoln, Y.S. and Guba, E.G. 1985. Naturalistic inquiry. London: Sage.Â Marcus, G.E. and Fischer, M.M.J. 1986: Anthropology as cultural critique. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Â Miller, D. 1997: Capitalism: an ethnographic approach. Oxford: Berg.Â Mitchell, J.C. 1983: Case and situation analysis. Sociological Review 31: 187-211.Â Spivak, G.C. 1988: Can the subaltern speak? in C. Nelson, and L. Grossberg, eds, Marxism and the interpretation of culture. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 271-313.Â Stacey, J. 1988. Can there be a feminist ethnography? Women\'s Studies International Forum 11: 21-7.
Selected Reading Atkinson, P. 1990: The ethnographic imagination: textual constructions of reality. London: Routledge.Â Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P. 1983: Ethnography: principles and practice. London: Tavistock.