What is an Ethnographic Study?

An ethnographic study represents a field study technique that involves talking to people, interviewing them, and observing how they perform their everyday tasks in their own environment. It can be explained both as a method for social science research and as its final product.

There are many classic examples of ethnography in various essay examples written both by college students and ethnographers. One of the most popular ethnographic types of research discussed in those ethnography essay examples is the one of Margaret Mead. She traveled to an island and lived with the society for years while researching the culture and its people through a process of participation and sustained observation.

However, not everyone can simply travel to an island and do the research there, but there are key concepts to an ethnographic study that you can take from this, such as:

  • Ethnography involves conducting a detailed, long-term study of society.
  • A written report or the final project of such detailed observation of a specific society is also known as ethnography.
  • Conducting an autobiography will provide the researchers with great information about the studied group. However, it is labor and time intensive.


Ethnography started to evolve in the early 20th century by Bronislaw Malinowski, although at the same time, sociologists in the U.S. also adopted this method. And since then, ethnography has become one of the main sociological research methods, and many researchers and sociologists have worked hard to develop this method and even formalize it into books that offer instructions that could be used in university or college education.

The goal of ethnographers is to understand why and how people behave, think and interact in their environment, and most importantly, to understand all of that from those studied. All in all, the goal is to simply understand the interactions and practices and what they mean to the studied community.

How Sociologists Conduct Ethnographic Research

Ethnographic Research can be done on every field site. They can be done in churches, schools, urban communities, bars, etc. However, for researchers to conduct all the needed information, they set themselves in the chosen field for a longer period. So, they can develop a strong data set that will contain interviews, systematic observations, and investigative and historical research. Researchers refer to this process as “thick description,” which means digging below the surface by asking questions such as: what, who, when, where, and how.

Also, their main goal while doing their research is to have no impact on the community and people they are studying. Developing trust is also an important factor in this process because the observed people need to feel comfortable in the presence of the ethnographer, so they can interact and behave as they normally would.

Pros of Conducting Ethnographic Research

The most important advantage of ethnographic research is that it gives us an inside of perceptions and values and the social life of a community that other research methods can’t. It also allows the ethnographic to develop a valuable and rich understanding of the cultural meaning and sometimes even help disprove stereotypes about a specific population.

Cons of Conducting Ethnographic Research

Sometimes can be hard to build trust or gain access to ethnographic research in a specific field, which is a big disadvantage. Another one is that it requires a lot of time that not everyone can dedicate. Also, there is a chance that interpersonal and ethical issues could arise due to the private and personal nature of the research.

Is it important for students to know this subject?

Ethnography especially focused ethnography is indeed important for students to know. Having at least the base knowledge about it helps students understand their own world and the beliefs and practices of the local cultures around them. Discussing, reading essays, or doing their own ethnography research will also help them communicate more effectively and understand how relationships are structured and what is needed and meaningful in order to be a part of a specific group.

Knowing this subject will also help students develop common sense from a young age and help them recognize different worlds rather than just the one they know and grow up in.In addition, learn more about how different groups represent themselves. It can also be helpful for students who want to study abroad or move to another country to adapt to the new lifestyle.


To do successful ethnography research, the ethnographer will need to invest a lot of time observing people in their own environment and understanding their perspectives, experiences, and everyday practices which will give them an in-depth insight into that particular group. And at the end of the day is useful for every one of us because it proves to us that not even two people think the same and do the same thing, which also helps us understand everyone around us better.

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