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Ethnography is an analytic description or reconstruction of cultural scenes and groups. The purpose of ethnographic research is to both describe and interpret cultural behavior, to discern cultural patterning in the behavior observed, and to provide an ongoing dialogue about the nature of culture itself. As a methodology, ethnography is designed for observing behavior, discovering the cultural knowledge governing that behavior, and relating the behavior to the knowledge as relationships are played out in social contexts.


Originating in anthropology, the ethnographic endeavor contains several distinguishing criteria. Ethnographic research strategies elicit phenomenological data that represent the perspective of the participants being investigated (Fetterman, pp. 67-79). Empirical and naturalistic strategies involve observation used to acquire firsthand accounts of phenomena as they occur in real settings. Ethnographic research is holistic and contextualized; thus, ethnographers attempt to provide descriptions of material and nonmaterial phenomena that represent multilayered contexts, complex interrelationships among participants and non-participants, and various interpretations of the phenomena. Ethnographers use a variety of research techniques to collect data and approach the ethnography non-judgmentally; biases are made explicit to mitigate their unintended effects on research.

The process of conducting an ethnographic study includes many elements. Gaining entry to a cultural group differs according to whether one studies a formal organization or community. The organization has official gatekeepers who control access, while the community has unofficial gatekeepers who can either facilitate entry and encourage access to information or prevent the scholar from penetrating beyond a superficial knowledge of the site (Fetterman, pp. 68).

Once entry is negotiated, data collection occurs in the form of both interactive and non-interactive methods. Interactive methods with participants serve to elicit their definitions of reality and the organizing constructs of their world based on their encounters in various settings. Data are collected in a variety of ways, including field notes, film, photographs, ...
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