Ethnographic Fieldwork


Ethnographic fieldwork has a long history in anthropology, sociology, and related disciplines. Since the 1990s, the use of the term, and the methods of ethnography, has diversified. It is often used somewhat indiscriminately to refer to a very wide variety of qualitative research strategies. In this entry, however, the emphasis is on continuities and discontinuities in the ethnographic traditions and the centrality of fieldwork, conducted through participant observation. The competing claims to ethnography, notably on the part of anthropology, are noted. This entry suggests that “ethnography” has never constituted a paradigm in its own right but has significant links to a range of different theoretical strands in the social sciences (including structural functionalism, interactionism, structuralism and semiotics, postmodernism). It is in itself a matter of multiple methods, including as it does narrative analysis, linguistics and ethnopoetics, visual methods, the collection and analysis of material culture inter alia. Since the 1990s, there have been a number of more novel approaches, such as sensory fieldwork, virtual ethnography, and autoethnography.

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