Critical Ethnography


Critical ethnography is concerned with relations of power and related issues of dis/advantage in wider social, educational, and political contexts. Critical ethnography can thus best be described as conventional ethnography with a political purpose. While critical ethnography aligns with the wider field of ethnography, it offers and requires a different orientation to the settings under investigation. One of the key aspects of critical ethnographic research is the focus therein on applying social theory to the research framing and analyses. This approach requires writers and researchers to attend not only to issues of ethics, reflexivity, and positionality but also to issues of social class, place, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality, the body, among others. Such an approach requires an intertwining of theory and method in sophisticated, nuanced, and coherent ways. Crucially, critical ethnographers are interested in and responsive to theoretical and sociological questions and new knowledge. So, critical ethnographers must also respond to and engage with salient theoretical developments in sociology, anthropology, education, and related fields. Throughout this entry, the key tenets of critical ethnography are highlighted. To do so, the entry draws on a wide range of international examples of critical ethnography, with a particular focus on education, research with youth, sporting contexts, and studies in language and health contexts. This accomplishes two key aims: It provides an overarching thematic and historical overview of critical ethnographic work and addresses contemporary issues of power and inequality and their often complex intersectionality.

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