Michael Agar
Table of contents

Ethnography is a term that refers to an epistemology, a kind of representation, and a research method. In this article the methodological aspects will be featured. Ethnography as method differs in substantial ways from the usual notion of ‘scientific research’. As a way to begin, a few brief descriptions might help. First, ethnography has its longest history of practice in anthropology, where it has always been the research means towards the end of learning about culture. Second, it is often described using metaphors like ‘student’ or ‘apprentice’ or ‘child’, by which is meant that an ethnographer sets out to learn a way of living, one with which s/he has little prior familiarity. Finally, many would summarize ethnography as the study of ‘context’ and ‘meaning’. In other words, what appears on the surface means something other than what one initially thinks, and it occurs because of circumstances of which one is unaware. Ethnography sets out to learn meanings and contexts which lie outside the concepts and habits of prior experience, to construct and test representations of this new knowledge, and to offer those representations as a characterization of culture.

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