Ethnographic Techniques

Bernard, H. R., (2018) “Chapter 13: Participant Observation” in Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches (6). Rowman and Littlefield.

In his book chapter, Russell Bernard discusses participatory observation as the foundation of cultural anthropology. Bernard considers the ethics of research and the importance of making people feel comfortable around you. Along with a short history and some examples of participatory research methods, he provides a brief explanation of how to define participatory research and states some major advantages and challenges. This book chapter might be useful for a qualitative researcher who wants to critically analyze and develop a better understanding of the participatory research method. VC 

Butz, D., & Besio, K. (2004). The Value of Autoethnography for Field Research in Transcultural Settings. Professional Geographer,56(3), 350-360. doi:10.1111/j.0033-0124.2004.05603004.x

Techniques: Autoethnography, Field Research. Context: transcultural settings in the formerly colonized world, particularly northern Pakistan. This article looks at how autoethnography can be used to shape field research. (LK)

Cruz, EV & Higginbottom, G. (2013). The use of focused ethnography in nursing research. Nurse Researcher 20(4), 36-43. DOI: 10.7748/nr2013.  

Cruz and Higginbottom explored the relevance of focused ethnography to nursing research in order to explore a particular part of a sub-culture or issues and dilemmas in a specific context. This was not aimed towards any particular article, as it was more of a reflection on the importance of ethnography (and the limitations that come along with such a flexible method) to a diverse selection of disciplines. This could be useful for any researcher that wishes to explore more of the broader cultural context surrounding a certain population or issue. (MR)

Kipling, R. P., Taft, H. E., Chadwick, D. R., Styles, D., & Moorby, J. (2019). Challenges to                     implementing greenhouse gas mitigation measures in livestock agriculture: A conceptual                    framework for policymakers. Environmental Science & Policy, 92, 107-115.                                 doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2018.11.013, from

This research used semi-structured interviews and focus groups of stakeholder organizations in livestock agriculture to understand the challenges of implementing GTG mitigation measures, where the findings were later analyzed using a grounded theory approach. This research project was located in Whales, with stakeholders who would be impacted by on-farm mitigation measures, those of whom were identified using a mapping process. This might be useful to understand the economic, social, and political barriers to mitigate climate change caused by agriculture globally. s.c.

Mthembu, N. N., & Zwane, E. M. (2017). The adaptive capacity of smallholder mixed-farming                systems to the impact of climate change: The case of KwaZulu-Natal in South                         Africa. Jàmbá: Journal of Disaster Risk Studies, 9(1). doi:10.4102/jamba.v9i1.469, from    

This article uses focus groups and in-depth interviews with crop producers and livestock owners to understand the adaptive capability as well as climate change mitigation efforts in a farming community within South Africa. This article could be used to understand different vulnerability measures within this farming community, and the methodologies could be compared or incorporated into other research project designs. s.c.

O’Hara, S. (2018). Autoethnography: The Science of Writing Your Lived Experience. HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal,11(4), 14-17. doi:10.1177/1937586718801425

Techniques: Autoethnography. Context: Health care professionals using past and present experiences to provide direction for the future. This article is another example of how autoethnography can be used in many different ways. (LK)

Takyi, E. (2015). The Challenge of Involvement and Detachment in Participant Observation. The Qualitative Report, 20(6), 864-872.

In this article, Takyi discusses participant observation and argues for the participant-as-observer role. The article considers the four possible roles in participant observation and makes the case that the participant-as-observer role is the most ethical and involved role that allows for a deeper understanding of the environment being studied. (D.E.)

Tetley, J. (2013). Using Participatory Observation to Understand Older People’s Experiences: Lessons from the Field. Qualitative Report, 18(45), 1–18. Retrieved from

Tetley used participant observation as her main research method, keeping reflective diaries in the field to identify the factors that influenced people’s decision about using care services in later life. She then analyzed the contents of the diaries by gathering descriptions of older people’s stories, evaluating personal thoughts, analyzing the experience of doing participant observation, and drawing conclusions about how this experience informed the research. Interviews were also conducted and combined with the observation data to develop a narrative summary that the participants could then comment on with regard to the accuracy and authenticity of her interpretations. This article may be useful for a researcher interested in seeing how people act in natural settings and gain insight into their interactions with other members of their group. It would also allow the researcher to build relationships with individuals with and possibly become more involved in the community as a whole. B.F.

In Inside the Empire, Smithsimon undertakes an ethnography of the Battery Park neighborhood in Manhattan, New York, between 2002 and 2005. Three primary of field observation were undertaken; attendance at formal meetings, attendance at community events, and visits where participant observation “in the unplanned life of public spaces.” In addition, the researcher conducts less socially engaged observations with repeated observations and quantitative measurements of selected spaces to establish who used the public spaces, when and how. Smithsimon conducts his research on community action in the affluent Battery Park City neighborhood in Lower Manhattan over the course of three years. He attended community board meetings proposing redevelopment of the bisecting West Street, public hearings of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and of the New York State Department of Transportation. When engaging with the community, Smithsimon also distinguished between residents who were and weren’t present during the then recent September 11 attacks, and how that could have implications for the level of involvement in community-led organizations. This article is resourceful in identifying how small-scale urban communities can be successful as a deterrence for unwanted redevelopment depending on the socio-economic of their residents. The contrast between a project identifying economically underprivileged communities’ responses to harmful infrastructure redevelopment in their neighborhood, as well as their comparative level of success in instituting change can reinforce the advantage of having high income residents as community actors. E.L.