Ethnographic Design: Definition, Advantages & Disadvantages Video

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  • 0:05 Qualitative Research
  • 1:22 Ethnography
  • 3:45 Strengths & Limitations
  • 6:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Though often researchers are interested in individuals, sometimes they are more interested in the characteristics of a community at large. In this lesson, we'll look at ethnographic research and its advantages and disadvantages.

Qualitative Research

Cal's father was a prosecutor, and when Cal was a kid, he used to sit in the courtroom for hours watching his father work to put criminals away. He began to notice some patterns emerging. Often, the children of incarcerated criminals would themselves end up incarcerated. The family members called to testify in cases were often jaded and looked at cops and lawyers with a skeptical eye.

Now, Cal is all grown up. He's a psychologist, and he's really interested in studying the community that consists of families of incarcerated criminals. Why do they think the way they do? How do they view law enforcement and the legal system? What is different about their community and culture compared to the community and culture of the United States at large?

These are all good questions, and there are many ways that Cal can answer them through research. One way that Cal can approach these questions is by doing qualitative research, which involves examining non-numerical data to find answers to his questions. There are many types of qualitative research. Let's look closer at one qualitative research method - ethnography - and its strengths and limitations.


Okay, so Cal wants to examine the families of incarcerated criminals to see what they have in common with each other and what he can figure out about the community that surrounds incarceration. So, he begins to hang out in circles where there are many incarcerated criminals. He observes and interviews family members of the incarcerated and makes notes about what he sees. Afterwards, he'll go back through and look for patterns in his notes.

Essentially, Cal is conducting an ethnographic study, which is focused on describing a culture's characteristics. It often involves looking at how the culture and beliefs of a community affect the behaviors and thoughts of individuals within that community. For example, perhaps Cal begins to notice that many people in the community he's observing distrust outsiders, particularly if they are involved in law enforcement or the legal system.

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