Ethnography: How we learn what
• Ethnographic inquiry
– What is ethnography?
– How is it done?
– Is it testable?
– Examples of
– Indigenous peoples
• Ethno – refers to human culture
• Graphy – means description of
• A research process used in the scientific study
of human interactions in social settings
• Used extensively in anthropology
• Has become increasing popular in many
different fields over the past few years
• Nursing, education, market research, business,
• Ethnographers should take note of all
– including senses,
– details about the physical setting including size,
space, noise, colors, equipment and movement,
– about people in the setting, such as number,
gender and race, appearance, dress movement,
comportment, feeling and tone.
• Interactional Detail - observing events in an
intimate microscopic manner to recount what
happened in fine detail
• Key Events - focusing on key events…such as
weddings, funerals, etc…is a useful way to
organize your fieldnotes; it involves selecting
noteworthy incidents out of the flow of
• Purpose – to describe and explain a facet or
segment of group social life
• Hypotheses and questions – begin as a broad
statement about the purpose of the research,
then are allowed to emerge more specifically
as data are amassed.
• Data - verbal descriptions of people,
interactions, settings, objects and phenomena
within the context being studies
• Data Sources – the people, settings, and
relevant objects being observed
• Data Collection – done by the researcher
through observation, often combined with
formal and informal interviews
• Data treatment and analysis – presentation of
verbal descriptions and/or logical analysis of
information to discover salient patterns and
• A question or concern is
identified for study
• A group to study is
– Typically small
– Typically purposively
• Permission to study the
group is obtained
• The researcher
observes the group
– Privileged observer: just
– Participant observer:
functions as part of the
• Researcher watches and listens attentively and records as
much detail as possible (this is called naturalistic
• Large amounts of notes are typically generated (My
example, 15 tapes = hundreds of pages of transcriptions).
• This process may last a week or two or could be years.
• The researcher analyzes the notes, identifies themes,
looks for answers to research questions, and makes
• The final step is to write the
research paper describing
the process, observations,
findings, and conclusion.
• Often rich descriptions are
provided so the readers can
make their own
• This is often described as
• So, How do we get to the
• Asking questions of your data…
– What are people doing? What are they trying to
– How exactly do they do this? What specific means
and/or strategies do they use?
– How do members talk about, characterize, and
understand what is going on?
– What assumptions are they making?
– What do I see going on here? What did I learn from
– How to get from data to analysis?
• Coding leads you well on your way to
transforming your fieldnotes into writings that
speak to wider audiences
• You will sift through your notes and look for
threads that can be woven together
• Definition: gives line-by-line categorization of
• Coding allows you to discover/create original
theory in your data
• Grounded theory and emergent theory
• Read line-by-line through your fieldnotes,
writing codes in the margins and re-read them
until you have exhausted all possibilities of
codes (themes, issues, ideas)
Strengths and Weaknesses
– Looks at the situation holistically
– May arrive at greater understanding of the
problem than other research processes
– Possible bias on the part of the observer (which
leads to validity concerns)
– Generalizability (how generalizable are the
findings from a small, purposely selected group)
Criteria for Judging Qualitative
• Credibility – would the group being observed say the
findings were credible? Are the findings logical and
• Transferability – Would a reader be willing to transfer
the results to another group or setting?
• Dependability – the researcher accurately describes
the context, setting and changes that may have
occurred during the study.
• Conformability – if there were additional observers,
would they describe the situation the same and
arrive at the same conclusions.
When to Conduct Ethnographic
• To define a problem when the problem is not clear
• To define a problem that is complex and embedded in
multiple systems or sectors
• To identify participants when the participants, sectors, or
stakeholders are not yet known or identified
• To clarify the range of settings where the problem or situation
occurs at times when the settings are not fully identified,
known, or understood
• To explore the factors associated with the problem in order to
Making a Living: Five Adaptive Strategies
– Very few such groups
– !Kung (Africa)
– Aboriginal Australians
• All humans were foragers
until 10,000 B.P.
• Out-populated by food
producers (J. Diamond)???
• Social mobility
• Gender-based division of
• Age-based social
• Anthropologists have identified
three major variations of the
foraging subsistence pattern:
• Pedestrian: diversified hunting
and gathering on foot
• Equestrian: concentrating on
hunting large mammals from
• Aquatic: concentrating on fish
and/or marine mammal hunting
usually from boats
• Foraging population densities are
• In harsh, relatively unproductive
environments, densities of foragers
have been as low as one person per
10-50 square miles.
• In rich environments, the densities
have been as high as 10-30 people
per square mile.
• The optimal community size usually is
about 25-30 people, depending on
the availability of food and water
• Thus high degree of stability
• Most of human history as Foragers
TODAY almost completely exterminated
– Tribal peoples living a
ethnohistorical lifeway in
– Few such groups remain
Horticulturalists - Agriculturalists
• Horticulture: an
distinguished by the use of
hand tools to grow
• Does not use draft animals,
irrigation, or specially
• How are the subsistence
organization, and political
The oasis theory
• A type of environmental determinism.
• Southwest Asia became dryer 12 to 15,000 years ago.
• People congregated around oases.
• People collected the seeds of wild grasses
• This led to plant cultivation.
• Cultivation of plants attracted wild cattle and sheep and
• This led to animal domestication.
• Problem: Domestication did not occur first at oases
Population growth theory
• Hunting, fishing and gathering were very productive
• So productive that population grew.
• More people needed more food
• People in marginal areas decided to domesticate animals and plants to
provide new food
• Domestication is gradual and would not provide people with more food in
the short term.
• Assumes domestication was intentional. However, people cannot predict
which plants or animals could be domesticated.
Seasonal stress theory of plant domestication
• The earliest plant domestication took place around the margins of
evaporating lakes. For example, the Jordan River Valley.
• Beginning in the Mesolithic, the climate became warmer with seasonal
droughts (these are seasonal stresses.)
• Annuals are best adapted to this environment,
– wild cereal and grains produce abundant seeds and survive for long
periods of drought.
• People collected wild plants, for example, wheat, barley, and rye.
• They used sickles, which meant that plants with tough stems and seeds
that did not readily scatter were the most likely to be carried back to
• Some lost seeds germinated at disturbed sites such as latrines, garbage
pits, and burned over areas.
• People began to promote growth of these annuals.
The Ashaninka and Yanomami as Examples
• Incredible knowledge of
• Technology such as hoe,
• Women cultivate.
• Men slash and burn.
• Same plot for 1-3 years.
• Fallow 25 years.
• Remaining indigenous horticulturalists…
• No division of labor beyond
age & gender
• NO SPECIALISTS;
• Unranked kinship
• Bilateral kindred
• Little property, storage
• SIBLING EXCHANGE
• Informal, flexible
• Headman resolves
• Fission? When individual
villages get to big…
• What are the potential
• Gender, remember the
Often balanced by religion
Pastoralists – Africa
• Diet of 88% Milk
• Blood Cake, drink, ritual
• Meat, all types
• Urine, medicine and
curing of hides
• Skin, bones, horns
Pastoralists: The Maasi
• How does herding work on the savanna?
• Grazers of grass: cattle (wet season MILK) and
sheep (dry MILK)
• Browsers (leaves) Camels (annual milk), goats
• How did we get from
Hunting to Herding?
• Animal Husbandry
• Transition: ~ 10,000 BP
• This was also period of
• First sheep and goats
• Later cattle, pigs, camels,
The hilly flanks theory of animal domestication
• Wild sheep and goats were domesticated in the hilly flanks or the foothills
of the Zargos Mountains in present day Iraq and Iran
• Wild sheep and goats migrated up and down mountains due to the
seasonal availability of grasses.
• Sheep and goats grazed in the lowlands during the winter and in the high
past years. In the summer.
• People follow these animals, and became very familiar with their behavior
• By 11,000 years ago, the percentage of immature sheep remains
• This indicates the presence of herd management
– Females were spared for breeding and people were feasting on ram
• By 8000 years ago, domesticated sheep and goats were being kept at
villages like Jericho.
• All members of the pastoral society
follow the herd throughout the year.
• Transhumance (seasonal movement
of group with herd) or Agro
• Part of group follows herd; other part
maintains a home village (usually
associated with some cultivation)
• Move to cool highland valleys in the
summer and warmer lowland valleys
in the winter.
Patterns of Pastoralism
• Small herd-management units
consisting of extended patrilocal
• Bride Wealth/Bride Price – the
cost of children
• Wealth stratification
• Patron-client ties established on
the basis of cattle loaning
relations with neighboring
pastoral groups based upon
• Decentralized political
• More productive than
• 10,000 kg of biomass per
• Maasai 2 – 6 km2 per person
• Animal husbandry by elders
• Care for herds by women &
• Cash economy
• Pastoral economies
– based upon
– members of such
economies may get
through trade or their
Means of Production
• Means of production include land,
labor, technology, and capital.
• Land: the importance of land varies
according to method of production
• Land is less important to a foraging
economy than it is to a cultivating
• Labor, tools, and specialization:
nonindustrial economies are
usually, but not always,
characterized by more cooperation
and less specialized labor than is
found in industrial societies.
Major changes in agriculture, manufacturing,
production, and transportation had a profound
effect on the socioeconomic and cultural
Typical characteristics of an industrial society
• a division of labor;
• cultural rationalization;
• a factory system and mechanization;
• the universal application of scientific
methods to problem-solving;
• time discipline and deferred gratification;
• bureaucracy and administration by rules;
• and a socially and geographically mobile
• Non Agriculture • Agriculture
– Factory – Major crops
– Energy • Food
– Information • Fuel
– Military – Animal Production
– Communication • Cattle - milk, hide
– Politics? • Pig – meat, oil
• Chicken – egg, meat
Shantys and Hotels
A post industrial strategy?
• Is there one? Perhaps in the USA, but can the same be
said in the manufacturing centers of the globe?
• Are we living in an “information society?” What does
• Are there new strategies for living in this society?
• I would argue, while there are new strategies, we are
still living within a capitalist society, our subsistence
patterns have not changed. Our political organizations
and agricultural practices are very much the same.
What has changed?
• Globalization of trade, the rise of the information
infrastructure, the spread of “throw away” capitalism.