Ethnography start up

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    Being trained as a cultural anthropologist, i am now trying to work with ethnography on a topic which is on the border between political science and sociology of religion, namely the interaction between local governments and a minority (immigrant) community which defines itself mostly in religious but sometimes in ethnic terms. As it is a comparatice study of three different cities in three different countries, i feel that i cannot do “proper” participant observation, also as the whole field is large, i am afraid of the things i might not notice. Not to mention concerns about the people that i will be able to meet in the field. Anybody in the same shoes? Anybody trying to use ethnography on a “macro” scale?


    …hi Carolina–I use ethnography for research in educational settings, which have their own way of imposing limitations and constraints on the idea of participant observation…I find that being an outsider in a research setting can be quite useful, mostly because you’re able to see everyday practices within a particular site from a different perspective than those who are more enmeshed in the routine taken-for-granted activities…having an insider who’s interested in the research and willing to discuss your observations with you can be a real help, especially when the research is being conducted internationally…


    This is paradoxically interesting. I am doing research on the impact of community radio as a source of rural empowerment. My filed area is also quite large as it would be limited both by time and resources (predominantly financial) to cover all the community radio stations in my research area. As having worked and known this filed (of inquiry) from more than seven years and using non-participant observations and doing FGDs and in-depth interviews including discourse analysis of media texts, can I call my method a ‘media ethnography’? I would be avoiding doing survey as I feel it would fail to catch the nuances in making people empowered through community owned radios.

    Sara Miller McCune

    Hi! I think you might want to be aware of the work Sandra Ball-Rokeach (USC-Annenberg School) is doing on ethnic media in urban settings. Her approach is broad and comes from a sociological and social psychology perspective. There is much to learn for you there, I would think. And Sandra might well want to know about how what you are doing in rural areas to encourage empowerment might apply to her work. I know her personal interests are very keen when it comes to building social capital for empowerment of the poor and underserved (I share that interest).

    Sara Miller McCune


    Hi Sara, thanks for the information and ideas. Can you link me up with Sandra Ball-Rokeach so that I could benefit from her knowledge. My research looks into the social, political and cultural empowerment of rural communities in Nepal. Since Nepal is moving into a ‘revolutionary’ transition shading its old ideas, institutions and beliefs, a role played by small locally owned but powerful radio has found to be quite significant.

    My literature searches on empowerment so far have mostly encountered women empowerment issues/ideas and I am trying to look further into the empowerment of both the gender and beyond. Although in a destitute patriarchal society the women are further marginalized I am thinking of looking at empowerment at a macro level of a particular whole community at this step. And I also hope to get your views on issues of empowerment.

    Nasim Ahmad

    WE have little or no experience of joining Blogs .However we believe ethnographic researches are to be undertaken as our preliminary journey before jumping to have more objectified knowledge.Ethnographic research is by nature idiosyncratic thus it is difficult to interpret our data .My previous experience convinces me that ethnographical research also requires some a priori understanding of theoretical paradigms and specific assumptions about middle range theories. As to the religious study we need to venture in symbolism which can be fascinating .
    Nasim Ahmad & Mrs Nasim (


    Indicates anthropology as a subject of research to the study of cultures and groups, in terms of their culture and livelihood systems, as well as their beliefs, would mean studying the vision of the world when individuals, and this requires the researcher need to address the cultural aspects of society, social, political and religious complex as a whole is difficult to avoid any of them. But the question which I have in mind I can not find an answer you can apply ethnography to the same curricula literary texts known to us.

    يشير علم الأجناس كموضوع للبحث الى دراسه الثقافات والجماعات ،من حيث ثقافتهم ونظم معيشتهم وكذلك معتقداتهم ،يعنى دراسه رؤيه العالم عند الأفراد، وهذا يحتم على الباحث ضروره تناول مظاهر المجتمع الثقافيه والأجتماعيه والسياسيه والدينيه ككل معقد يصعب تجنب اى منها.ولكن التساؤل الذى يدور فى ذهنى ولا أجد اجابه عليه هل يمكن تطبيق الأثنوغرافيا على النصوص الأدبيه بنفس مناهجها المعروفه لدينا.

    Dr Ann Lawless

    Hi Carolina

    I bet you have already built this into your research design, but here goes…….some comments!

    (1)sounds like you need to accept the need to put boundaries around some parts of the field, knowing that to do so will exclude some things that will interest you but also will allow you to encapsulate some that do. That is, if the field is that big, its unmanageable, and since you have to “manage it”, you consciuously and reflexively put some boundaries around some areas so that you are able to conduct the study. That then gives you issues to declare in the report about why, how you did this, and its consequences for practice, theory building and so on

    (2) you need to reflect on the methodology that enables you to do this – maybe case study. I had to resolve a similar problem once, and turned to case study method to help manage a HUGE field within which to do field work.

    (3)if you do a macro study without scoping inwards/downwards, you will need to use or devise methods/methodology that allows you to address macro issues and this may include the macro level but exclude micro and particularities. The macro approach may be an advantage tho for managing issues of generalizability in your research findings??? Interesting research design issues, hope it goes well.
    (4)to manage the overwhelming nature of being in the field, you can use a “observation schedule” and deliberately (and consciously, reflexiviely) restrict what you will observe – like squinting, you reduce your vision so that you can something at least.

    With you background in cultural anthropology you probably know about this, but i offer these simple comments anyway.

    Craig Furneaux

    Hi Carolina,

    My masters was in sociology of religion, and am using ethnography in a large disbursed organisation, with some quantitative to cope with the sheer size of what is happening. (i.e. the quant tends to tell me what is going on, where as the ethnography tells me why).

    My approach to methods is to start with the research question – what is it that you are seeking to find answers to.

    Can you tell me what it is you are seeking to investigate?

    It may be you need to use a mixed methods design in order to cope with the scale issue. (e.g. perhaps newspapers – both mainstream and those produced by the ethnic group you are studying) would give you interesting data.

    Best wishes


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