Providing “real” ethnography

“[ERI] put the findings into social and anthropological context…New product concepts were easier to write because they weren’t just about the products but also about the consumers’ lives.”

-Consultant to a food and beverage company

Train picture: Real ethnographyWe find more and more “ethnography” providers don’t provide ethnography at all. Instead, a lot of what is called “ethnography” is really just in-context observations and interviews. We are always supportive of doing qualitative research in natural settings. At the same time, calling that ethnography isn’t only a misnomer, it can lead clients to wrongfully lower their expectations of what ethnography can and should provide.

Ethnography is more than just watching people while they channel surf or eat breakfast at a pancake place. Ethnography is an approach to understanding, and the assumptions of ethnography—exploration, holism, and induction—drive everything we do. These assumptions dictate what projects we bid on, how we design our methodologies, how we devise sampling strategies, how we go about doing fieldwork, and in the end how we analyze and report our findings.

We work with a set of lofty goals, the result of the continual methodological discussions that go on in the social sciences. This takes certain qualifications (formal training in ethnography for one!) and commitments to an inductive approach and rigorous analysis that many other providers who claim to provide ethnography simply do not have.

Comments are closed.