// you're reading...

Research Design

Observation and Ethnography

What is Ethnography?

The term ethnography is qualitative research where the purpose is to provide an in depth description of everyday life and practice. Long-term engagement in the field setting or place where the ethnography takes place, is called participant observation. Ethnography has been regarded as one of the key research methods in exploring the social worlds of children (James, Jenks, and Prout, 1998). The term qualitative is meant to distinguish this kind of social science research from more quantitative or research that is statistically oriented.

Corsaro and Molinari’s “Entering and Observing in Children’s world ”and “ Researching Children’s experience are valuable literature that may aid in conducting research via observation and ethnography. Both articles are examples of the intricacies involved in this research methodology. The articles provide detailed information of what is described as “the richness of longitudinal ethnography”. The ethnographer plays a dual role; to develop an understanding of what it is like to live ina setting, the researcher must become a participant in the life of the setting while also maintaining the stance as an observer; someone who is able to describe the experience with a measure of detachment. Ethnographers of children have pointed to the importance of developing a participant status as an atypical, less powerful adult with young children( Corsaro 1985,1996). Longitudinal ethnography is important because as children develop, the collective processes that they are a part of are also changing. Therefore longitudinal ethnography is ideal method for the theoretical approach.

Corsaro and Molinari conducted ethnographic research in Modena, Italy with separate groups of children. Corsaro’s research was conducted with a group of 5year-olds. His experience is detailed in what may be considered the pros and cons of ethnographic research. “Entering and Observing in Children’s world” discusses the key aspects of this qualitative research. For example, entering the field and developing a participant status is crucial in the initial stage of research. Although the ethnographer’s participation of children’s peer culture may cause uneasiness, he/she must gain the trust of the participants. He /she has the task of “documenting evolving membership in the local culture”. Also, the ethnographer must identify and participate in priming events. Field entry is essential in ethnography because one of its central goals as an interpretative method is the establishment of membership status and insider’s perspective. Cross-cultural ethnographers of children are seen less threatening by children and young people (p183). Children will empathize with the ethnographer when he/she displays similar characteristics.

Language in Ethnography

Language defines the ethnographer’s participant status in the local cultures of the research setting and is therefore a collective process by the ethnographer and participants. Corsaro and Molinari’s article points out that the lack of full linguistic competence, which works against the ethnographer; enables informants and participants to test, to reflect, and develop more fully their cross-cultural relationship with the ethnographer.

An ethnographic understanding is developed through close investigation of several sources of data. Using these data sources as groundwork, the ethnographer relies on a cultural frame of analysis.



Skip to toolbar