Ethnographic Research

The Methodology of Ethnographic Research

Ethnography is the systematic study of human cultures; therefore, ethnographic research is the process of gathering, understanding, organizing and communicating cultural data for a specific purpose. The methodology of ethnographic research includes, but is not limited to purposeful prayer, participant observation, and ethnographic interviews.

Purposeful prayer is another ethnographic research method. Since the God of the Bible is the creator of all the heavens and earth, he infinitely understands his most precious creation, mankind. Therefore it is essential to ask him for wisdom and discernment concerning the cultures of mankind.

Participant observationis learning while doing, smelling, hearing, feeling, and eating. A cultural outsider has a unique opportunity to observe a new culture with “fresh eyes.” In fact it is possible to get “sensory overload” when one becomes aware of their new surroundings. One way to aid participant observation is to read available literature about the culture of the people you are researching before your visit. What you observe may agree or conflict with what you read, and depending on the situation, both insights may be true! This is why it is vital to record observations for later stages of ethnographic research. The advantage of participant observation is that it can be done without a translator, providing much freedom and flexibility.

Ethnographic interviews are challenging and rewarding because they take place in the context of relationships. Books may describe a culture, but people create and live out the culture. Ethnographic interviews are conducted with cultural helpers, those who are well integrated in the culture of interest. As a result, translators are usually needed, so a good relationship must be built with the translator. There are many different avenues through which you can express your desire to learn about the culture. Many people are quite willing to share their stories with an outsider when they sense your sincerity, and this can also be an opportunity to give encouragement and extend compassion. In most situations it is acceptable for someone write down what is being said and described. Cultural sensitivity is necessary, and advice from the translator may be helpful at this point. As you process what you have learned, more research is often required to verify the accuracy and reliability of the information that is obtained. Finally, all notes and observations are organized and prepared for communication.

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