Mimi-ethnography Project Info

Anthropology 3 – Cultural Anthropology
Mini-ethnography: Basic Theory, Terms, and Methodology
Ethnography – a written report, based on ethnographic research (i.e., fieldwork), of an aspect of a particular culture. It has two major
components: 1) fieldwork among people in a particular culture or sub-culture and 2) the written results of that research.
Main Goals of Ethnographic Research
To provide an account of a particular community, society, or culture. Your ethnographic project requires you to gatherer,
organize, describe, analyze, and interpret the data to build and present an account of your research.
1. To understand and describe human socio-cultural behavior That is, actions and events of the subject the ethnographer is
studying. Some meanings are expressed directly in language, many are taken for granted and communicated only indirectly.
Anthropologists do not study people as scientific specimens, rather, they learn from people about their culture, thus, the ethnographer
becomes a student and their informants become their teachers. A primary concern of anthropologists is if it possible to understand
another culture from the "insider's point of view." This is very important and very difficult to do. The ethnographer must set aside
his/her naive realism, i.e., the universal belief that all people define the real and natural world of objects, events, and living creatures
in the same way. It is important to understand that there are many ways that different societies organize and view their world and
social phenomenon. For example, in Western culture, we make a distinction between things that are organic and inorganic, while in
other cultures there is no difference between the two. Likewise, we view direction as north and south or east and west, while other
peoples would relate to direction as upriver or downriver or from this mountain to that mountain or from that river to that grove of
trees. Or, the difference in how individuals are socially ranked or which relatives are important. Is it the biological father or a
mother’s brother who is the most important male in a child’s life?
Ethnographic research is undertaken in almost every cultural situation possible, from the tropical jungle of Brazil to the
streets of San Francisco, or from the garment shops of Chinatown to the homes of recent immigrants to the United States, or to the
student union on a college campus. When doing fieldwork ethnographers must deal with three fundamental aspects of human
experience: 1) their cultural behavior, 2) their cultural knowledge, and 3) their material culture. The type of questions that
anthropologists attempt to answer while doing ethnographic fieldwork are as varied as human behavior itself.
Primary Methods of Ethnographic Fieldwork
1) participant observation is a fieldwork technique that involves gathering cultural data by observing people’s behavior and
participating in their lives (i.e., learning the language, living with the people for extended period of time, etc.).
2) interviewing is the collection of data by asking questions of the members a culture or informants. A key informant is a
member of the society that the ethnographer develops a close relationship with and who has a deep and through knowledge of the
culture and can provide information and guidance to the anthropologist.
Ethnographers usually spend several years studying the people, society and culture they are interested in before they go out
into the field. This prepares them to develop a dissertation proposal or strategy of ethnographic research. The ethnography they write
will be their doctoral dissertation. When conducting ethnographic fieldwork it is important that the anthropologist have no
preconceived notion of what they will learn. Also, they must put aside any predetermined ideas about the people or culture. This is
very difficult to do, but it is critical to conducting scientific research. This concept is known as "the pretense of the neutral
researcher." Neutrality or objectivity of the anthropologist is important in scientific research and must be conscience and practiced.
In the view of some, it is held that all knowledge is influenced by the observer’s culture, social position, and training; and
that there is no single objective reality, but rather many partial truths, depending on one’s frame of reference. This perspective has
caused anthropologist to do lots of soul searching and has resulted in more sensitivity to issues of history and power.
In this assignment you are asked to be an ethnographer without going far away to the field. You should observe people in a
natural setting, doing what they normally do and behaving as they normally behave. Your task is to describe your observations,
selecting what is most important, and organize the description around a principal question or idea of anthropological relevance.
The two most important aspects of this assignment are choosing a topic and devising an interesting research question to ask
(see section on Analysis below). The topic should be something that you are interested in and that you will enjoy pursuing. Do no be
overly ambitious, remember that this is a short written assignment (i.e., 7-10 pages). You should select a narrow enough topic that
you will be able to have enough time to explore it adequately. You may well find that once you begin working on the project that you
have more than sufficient data to write about. You need to clearly define a research question based on the topic you are interested in.
If you have questions about this aspect of the project bring it up in class for discussion or see me.
Sample topics: You can choose from the list below or develop your own topic.
1. Examine an extended family and show how the members interact with one another. You could interview several members of the
family and attend family events, dinners, etc..
2. Observe a specific type of kinship relations: e.g., the blended family in which two adults have children from different partners and
get married and the two sets of children are raised in the same household.
3. Observe some aspect of youth culture: e.g., drinking/clubbing, gangs (be careful with this topic), music, dating, friendship in a
setting like a mall, restaurant, in the Student Union, on public transportation, etc..
4. Observe gender relations, e.g., expectations regarding dating, marriage, having children, careers, sex, sexual behavior, etc..
5. Examine religious beliefs and practices, e.g., differences between gender, age groups, ethnic groups.
6. Examine the acculturation process of an immigrant family to the United States.
H.W.Schulz, CCSF, Anth 3 2 February, 2010
7. Observe the economic and/or shopping behavior of a particular group or compare between two groups based on race, ethnicity,
age, gender, sexual preference, etc.. For example, patterns of consumption, brand loyalty, etc..
8. Observe racial or ethnic relations, e.g., how members of one particular group view themselves and how they view others.
9. Observe the relationships between older and younger members of the same racial or ethnic group.
10. Observe the behavior of street people at a particular street intersection or gathering place such as the Civic Center in San
Francisco or Market and 5th Streets.
A research proposal consisting of a description of your ethnographic project including the research question and basic
methodology will be submitted on 10 September, 2009. The proposal should be approximately one or two typed written pages in 12
point font, double spaced page with one inch margins. Your proposal will be reviewed and commented on and then returned to you.
If you have any questions on the proposal or the assignment in general you should raise them after class or arrange an office
appointment with me to go over your concerns. The proposal will be graded and become part of the overall assignment grade. Late
proposals will not be accepted and you will forfeit your opportunity to earn honors credit in this course.
Ethnography Format
An ethnography is an academic dissertation and its production should follow very specific rules and format. It should be
organized with the following sections: introduction, methodology, results, analysis, and conclusion.
The ethnography must be at least 10 typed, double spaced pages. It is important to learn to write clearly and succinctly
(remember, quantity ≠ quality). You will be graded on both content and mechanics including: neatness, grammar, punctuation,
syntax, and spelling, etc.. The ethnography is due 3 December, 2009 at the beginning of class. Late assignments will not be accepted
without a written excuse verified by the College based on conditions and policies detailed in the Course Syllabus.
The following is a basic research strategy and writing style for your project. There are five primary sections:
1) Introduction
This section should include a concise statement of the research question or hypothesis. It should also include any background
information about the research project that will inform the reader. You should explain your research objective so that it can be
replicated by another scientist without your counsel (this is fundamental to scientific research, that is, the ability of other scientists to
replicate one’s research in order to confirm the results, if this can not be accomplished, one’s research is meaningless and invalid and
is rejected by one’s academic peers).
2) Methodology
This section involves an explanation and discussion of how you conducted your research. That is, what rules and criteria did
you set up and follow to conduct your research. For example, how did you select your subjects, how many subjects were involved,
what restrictions or criteria did you use for their selection, where did you conduct your research and under what conditions, how many
questions did your survey have and why did you decide on them, how long did you observe your subjects and under what conditions,
etc.. In other words, explain everything that conditioned your research strategy, and the behavior of your subjects relative to your
research. Remember that the methods used in your research project should be standardized, that is, you should act, do, and say
exactly the same with each subject; this provides for an equal and unbiased research environment and will provide the most accurate
results from your research.
There are two facets of ethnographic fieldwork: observation and elicitation. Talking with people about what they are doing
is necessary part of ethnography. You will probably want to ask some questions of the subjects you are observing. Try to learn what
your informants think about what they are doing or how they feel about the issues you are interested in. Ask them if what you have
observed is typical behavior. You may wish to interview your subjects privately after you have observed the behavior. The most
straightforward way of carrying out the observation is merely to try to play the role of a participant observer (see Ethics Rules below).
Be as unobtrusive as possible and do not make a nuisance of yourself and do not invade others privacy.
Try to write up your notes as soon as possible after you have made your observations. That is, while the circumstances are
still fresh in your mind. Carry out the observations as many times as possible. Remember the more familiar you are with the subjects
and the more you have seen them in action, the better the ethnography will be. You will see new things each time you observe your
subjects. You might wish to use a tape recorder or a laptop computer during your interviews. If you do so, be sure to get permission
from your subjects.
Do not write an ethnography that is based on some past experience; this is not acceptable. You are required to carry out
original research for this assignment rather than to write the project retrospectively.
You may wish to undertake your ethnography based solely on elicitation, that is the interviewing of your subjects or only
based on observation, or on a combination of both methods. You will need to clearly explain your methodology in your ethnography.
3) Results
In this section you present your data, that is, what you observed or what responses received from your subjects on a survey or
during an interview. This is a presentation of the raw data, for example, if you had 10 subjects and 6 questions, you would summarize
the results here without any commentary or analyses, just the facts and data that you have obtained. You can present your data in table
or graph form. Do not discuss the results, rather just relate and list your data. It is appropriate to summarize and condense your data
into patterns, but again, do not discuss or provide commentary on the data in this section.
4) Analysis
Based on the research question you developed you should organize your data into a logical order and proceed to discuss each
of your findings. As mentioned above, it is important to organize your data and thoughts as soon as possible after ending your
fieldwork for the day while it is still fresh in your mind. You should study your notes to ascertain what patterns you can find in your
H.W.Schulz, CCSF, Anth 3 2 February, 2010
data. You should try to apply any anthropological concepts or theory to your results and observations, particularly in your conclusion
In this section you discuss and interpret your data. For example, you can relate patterns or differences between subjects’
behavior or compare and contrast the results of your observations and/or the survey responses from your subjects. Summarize your
results and discuss what patterns you see in the data, what is your data telling you about the research question. You should exclude
your subjective opinion from your analyses, in scientific research one’s own opinion is not relevant or of interest per se in this section.
5) Concluding Comments
This section should tie everything together and relate conclusive statements about your research results and analyses. For
example, how does you data answer your research question, that is, does the data confirm or refute your research question. You
should explain the meaning and significance of the sum of your research results. This is the section where you can interpret the results
of your research, first from an objective perspective and then from a subjective perspective, if appropriate.
Research Project Ethics
Any scientific research that involves humans must be carried out very thoughtfully and with great care to respect the
subjects’ privacy, sensitivities and integrity. You should follow the highest ethical standards in conducting your research. In
particular, pay attention to the following:
 Do not misrepresent yourself. Tell your potential subjects that you are carrying out a research study for an anthropology
class and do not pretend that you are something other than an ethnographer. Obtain permission to carry out the study. Do
not observe people surreptitiously. Note: there may be some exceptions to this rule, for example, in an urban setting where
people are coming and going. Discuss any situation you may have questions about with me beforehand.
Do not set up an artificial situation. For example, do not have a friend infiltrate the group which you are observing in
order to influence the thinking or behavior of subjects. In other words, do not experiment with people.
 Subjects must be at least 18 years of age. The study of children requires very specific and restricted criteria and is beyond the
scope of this type of assignment.
 Do not use subjects’ actual names when you write the report and, if necessary, take measures to disguise the identity of your
subjects. You might want to explain this to your subjects to allay their fears and assure their privacy.
 Do not encourage subjects to carry out any illegal activity.
 Be prepared to show your final ethnography to your subjects or at least to discuss the results of your research with them. If
your subjects wish to see the ethnography you should accede to their wishes. If they do not care, there is no need to show
them the ethnography.
 You must follow the normal rules of academic honesty and integrity when you write the ethnography. Do not plagiarize and
be sure to indicate the source of any information or ideas which are not your own. For instructions on citing the work of
others and on the mechanics of writing academic papers consult with me.
Final Notes
This project can be exciting and a lot of fun if you pursue a research topic that you’re really interested in and plan, organize,
and work with me to complete your goal. You should give your research subject considerable thought. Literally, all human behavior
is subject to anthropological research. If you have difficulty choosing a research subject, discuss it with me; I can help you focus.
Finally, this project can not be completed in a rush at the end of the semester. So start early and work on it in a timely
manner and it will be a much more rewarding experience and your grade will reflect it. 
H.W.Schulz, CCSF, Anth 3 2 February, 2010