As one of the most interactive forms of research, ethnographic research was mainly used in anthropology before other social sciences also started to utilize it. It is a qualitative research method that involves researchers studying the research participants in their real-life environment. The primary data collection methods used for this purpose are observation and interview. Researchers actively participate in the community, the group they study in order to get an insider's perspective on the topic and understand their lifestyle, behavior, interactions, etc., better. Sometimes, the study may require them to live with the group in their natural environment for months or even years until they are able to come up with the desired theories, solutions. Secondary data such as writing samples, artifacts are also used and can be even more helpful in some cases.
Craig Calhoun (2002) defines ethnographic research as:
"Ethnographic research is the study of the culture and social organization of a particular group or community... Ethnography refers to both the data gathering of anthropology and the development of analysis of specific peoples, settings, or ways of life."
Ethnographic research advantages
- It provides a chance to get first-hand insights into the research topic. The natural environment allows researchers experience all the action by themselves, which is more effective than listening to the participants in an office. It can help to find the underlying issue that is not possible to detect in traditional forms of research. Additionally, participants may not talk about everything they know about the topic, but observing them in their environment can help find answers to those questions.
- Ethnographic research is considered to be more reliable because of the direct observation of participants partaking in the research. It is worth noting that some of the research projects can take longer until the researchers are able to find the required data.
- Participants become more comfortable with their feedback, especially if the researcher stays with them for a longer period of time. They are more open to discuss sensitive topics.
Ethnographic research disadvantages
- Ethnographic research can be one of the most time-consuming forms of research, depending on the answers researchers seek. It doesn't always take months, but the subject matter can drag the process for a while. Researchers conducting this type of research get a large amount of data which is another reason for an extended period of time the research requires. Coding, analyzing, drawing a conclusion of such data may sometimes take longer than the active part of the research itself.
- Researchers can't adapt to all kinds of environments they want to study. Weather, food, habitat, traditions, etc., are all deciding factors in the research, so it isn't possible to study everything using ethnography research. Finding expert researchers who have undertaken similar research projects is more logical since the novice can't get a good grasp of the environment.
- Due to the time and resources it requires, ethnographic research can be expensive, especially in very remote destinations.
- Because it studies individual communities, the research lacks generalizability.