What is the Ethnographic Method of Data Collection?

Ethnography is the study of societies and cultures in a systematic way. It observes, records and analyses people belonging to a society in their natural ‘environment’ settings or ‘fields’. The data is gathered by methods aimed to capture their regular activities and social meanings related to them. The researcher may not get involved in the activities, but participates directly in the setting, for the purpose of collecting data. The information is recorded, being careful to not impose the meaning on the participants externally .Ethnography is one of the chief methods used for collection of qualitative data in social sciences. They provide specific and in-depth accounts of the customs, traditions, habits, and mutual differences of different societies and cultures.


The basic objective of employing ethnography method is to obtain thorough and holistic understanding of people’s actions and opinions, along with the kind of location they live in, by way of observing and interviewing in detail. According to Hamersley, “The task (of ethnographers) is to document the culture, the perspectives and practices, of the people in the settings. The aim is to ‘get inside’ the way each group of people sees the world” .

Ethnography Characteristics

  • It observes people’s behaviour in ‘ordinary’ or ‘everyday’ settings, instead of any artificial settings created by the researcher.
  • The principal method of gathering data is participant-observation. Some other methods are also used.
  • Any external influence on people is avoided and their natural activities are focussed on. The mode of data collection is unstructured to make it flexible.
  • A small scale group is studied at a time in one setting.
  • The data is aimed to describe and analyse the meanings associated with everyday human actions.

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