Fieldwork is the hallmark of cultural anthropology. Whether in the suburbs of Kasol in Himachal Pradesh or on New Delhi streets, India, the anthropologist goes where people actually live and carries out his fieldwork. This means he watches the ceremonies which are being followed in that particular suburbs, he observes how the people wash their clothes, how kids play and how they learn their language by asking questions about their culture, taking field notes, and lot of other things. Conducting ethnography refers to the vast range of activities often recondite the most fundamental task of all fieldwork. The details of anthropological fieldwork is detailed in this chapter.
Ethnography originated from social research. The term ‘ethnography’ was more popular during the nineteenth century in Western anthropology. Ethnography was an evocative description of the culture which was usually followed in the outskirts of the west. In the middle of nineteenth century ethnography was divergent with, and was typically seen as similar to, ethnology, which constituted to the past and relative study of non-western societies and cultures. Ethnology was regarded as the center of anthropological work, and drew individual ethnographic accounts which were being followed by travelers and missionaries. Ethnology did not get much support from anthropologists since they started doing their own fieldwork, this let to ethnography coming in the fore front. Ethnography was referred to as an integration of both empirical investigation and the theoretical and relative elucidation of community learning and ethnicity.
Since twentieth century, ethnographic fieldwork has been vital to anthropology. In fact, carrying out fieldwork, which is not similar to one’s own culture, became a rite of passage required for entry to the anthropologists tribe. One of the prerequisite of fieldwork was to live with a group of people for longer durations, sometimes more than six months, in order to record, observe and infer their unique way of life, and the attitude and ethics related to it.
Ethnographic work describes culture. The endeavor of ethnography is to assess another way of life from the native point of view. According to Malinowski (1994), to embrace the native’s point of view is the main objective of ethnography, the ethnographer tries to find out the native’s relation to life, and what his vision of the world. Fieldwork is carried out for understanding what the world is like to people who have learned to see, speak, think, hear, and act in ways that are different. Ethnographer does not study people, rather he learns from from people.
Distinctiveness from Other Qualitative Research
1. Ethnography: According to Hammersly and Atkinson (1983) in ethnographic study the role of the researcher is to participate overtly or covertly in people’s daily lives for longer duration inspecting what is happening, listens to what is being communicated by asking relevant questions. In other words the researcher collects all the relevant data which would throw light on issues which concerns the researcher.
2. Grounded Theory: Glaser, Strauss, and Corbin (1967) developed grounded theory. In this research methodology the researcher uses game plan which are inductive in nature for analyzing the data. The researcher begins the research with no pre-existing (1) theory; (2) propositions; and (3) hypothesis, or research findings but relatively permits a theory to emerge directly from the data. The aim of the research is to illustrate the topic of study in a proper manner and also to develop adequate theoretical conceptualizations of research findings. In the first step the researcher begins with individual cases or scenarios which are chosen prior to carrying out the rresearch, data is collected and analyzed at the same time. The theory is conceptualized from the beginning, and allows findings and conceptualizations to grow and stimulate together. One interview builds on the prior data collections and the conceptualizations that have been developed up to that point. The researcher gathers thick data and makes the meanings of the participants explicit. The researcher continues this process until reaching saturation i.e. he is no longer learning anything new. The researcher’s conceptualizations are based on his exclusive skills and experiences.
3. Ethnomethodology: Ethnomethodology was introduced by Garfinkel (1967) and involves the various techniques which people use to carry out their day-to-day activities. An important assumption in ethnomethodology is that of reflexivity whereby social activities not only represent the everyday social world but also self generate it.
4. Conversation Analysis: Conversation Analysis is a research methodology that grew out of ethnomethodology, and has some unique features. It studies the social organization of conversation, the first step is to record the conversation, then the data are transcribed,then the analysis of the transcribed data is carried out, and the final report is prepared.
5. Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis: Interpretive phenomenological analysis is concerned with trying to understand lived experience. The researcher also tries to find out how participants make sense of their experiences on their own. The main objective of the researcher is to find out the meanings which the participants hold for those experiences.
6. Phenomenological: The aim of phenomenological approach is to develop an entirely new, clear and coherent description and understanding of a particular human experience. The research objective is met by the researcher by employing special special investigator stance. The participants for the study are only those who have experienced the phenomenology. The researcher then collects the data from the participants by conducting interview; analysis of the data is carried out before the final report is prepared.
7. Symbolic Interactionism: The opinion of symbolic interactionism is that the human interaction is viewed as a set of symbolic, largely linguistic world to a certain extent rather than causes and effects. The researcher needs to know how symbols are used and interpreted in order to understand human interaction.
Characteristics of Ethnography
1. Related and Comprehensive: Ethnographic study is very comprehensive. Relating the data means placing observations and data which is collected by conducting interview into a bigger viewpoint. A central belief of ethnography is that people’s behavior is context specific; which means that when the data is being analyzed the ethnographer cannot separate essentials of human behavior from their related circumstance of idea and significance. In reality it is this specific context that provides for the understanding of human behavior. The task of the ethnographer is not only to describe human behavior; they ought to understand why the behavior takes place and under what circumstances. The hallmark of ethnographic research is fieldwork where the ethnographer has to work with people in their natural setting very closely for a longer duration. For conducting the fieldwork successfully the ethnographer has to observe the participant closely. Participants are observed by maintaining some distance by the ethnographer that allows for sufficient observation and data recording. How the ethnographer collects, sorts, and processes the data to come up with patterns of the whole depends on the focus of the ethnography and the ethnographer’s preferences and skills. The aim of this process is to restructure the data in a useful and logical fashion, putting it together into evocative relationships, patterns, and categories. The ethnographer presents a comprehensive conception of a social group within its relevant contexts of meaning and purpose.
2. Spontaneous: The quality of ethnography is spontaneity, which means that the ethnographer who is a member of the social group that he or she is studying are affected by it. In order to explain the characteristics spontaneous, authors Hammersley and Atkinson (1983) observed that the distinction between science and common sense, between the activities of the researcher and those of the researched, lies at the heart of both positivism and naturalism. They suggested that both (extreme) positions “assume that it is possible, in principle at least, to isolate a body of data uncontaminated by the researcher, either by turning a body of data uncontaminated by the researcher, either by turning him or her into an automaton or by making him or her a neutral vessel of cultural experience” (p.14). The data collected by the ethnographer is not taken at the face value, the data collected is also considered as a field of inferences in which theoretical patterns can be known and tested.
The ethnography process consists of observing the participants as well as conducting the interview of the participants’. The combination of observation and interview leads to spontaneity. According to Werner and Schoepfle (1987):
“As ethnographers, we try to do more than just describe the cultural knowledge of the native. We try to understand and, if possible, explain. We need to be able to explain how the natives could possibly view the world as they do. The paradox of this situation, is that all description, understanding, and explanation of the natives’ cultural knowledge is based fundamentally on two disparate, incompletely, transmittable, presumptive systems of knowledge –the knowledge of the native and the knowledge of the ethnographer” (p. 60).
They also observed that this blend of insider/outsider perspective provides deeper insights that are possible by the native alone or an ethnographer alone. Both the views put together produce a third dimension that rounds out the ethnographic picture. Thus good ethnography produces theory from the spontaneity nature of the ethnographic experience. A good ethnography is always more than just description; it is also a theoretical explanation. The intensity and supremacy of the theory differ according to the scope and focus of the ethnography.
3. Emics and Etics: The most common terms in ethnography are emics and etics, and they are associated directly to spontaneity. The emic perspective is defined as the insider’s view or the informant’s view of reality and is the heart of ethnographic research. The emic perspective is important to understand the behaviors of the participants. The outsider’s perspective is called as etic which reveals the researchers abstractions, or the scientific explanation of reality. Both the viewpoints are important in helping the ethnographer understand why members of that particular group do what they do, and both are important if the ethnographer is to understand and accurately explain situations and behaviors. The viewpoints help ethnographer develop theoretical interpretations. The term native was used by prior researchers to refer to the people they studied, and they wrote about the emic point of view. But recently the objective of ethnographies has widened to include other kinds of social groups; the term informant has been used widely to explain members of a sample. Researchers who are interested to know the informants view point use cognitive methods to collect, interpret and give meaning to interview data. Researchers who are interested in scientific framework use etic approach and collect data by observing the informants and by carrying out informal interview.