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2022/3/8 A Simple Guide to Ethnography Simple Guide to Ethnography&text=Ethnography is unobtrusive research through,the environment with … 1/3

A Simple Guide to Ethnography
Copyright © 2013 – David W. Guth

Last Updated 23 July 2013
Ethnography is unobtrusive research through observation and limited
interaction. The researcher plays the role of an independent, neutral and –
in the case of immersion – an invisible observer. The key is to make detailed
observations of the environment with minimal interaction. You do not want
to influence the data you collect by interacting with the subjects of your
observation. Ethnographic research can be very complex and involve a
scientific process of data collection and coding.  However, for the
purposes of undergraduate-level research, a more simplistic approach is
often all that is necessary. These are some basic steps in conducting
ethnographic research:

Start with a game plan. Before you begin this process, have a good
sense of the kind of data you want to collect.  That’s why a good
foundation of secondary research is very helpful in this process.
Knowing the nature of the challenge you face can dictate the kind of
data you want to collect. For example, if your challenge is to attract
more tourists to a community, then you should focus on how visitor-
friendly the community is in terms of signage, parking,
accommodations, etc.

Start with an open-mind and fresh eyes. Objectivity is mandated. 
Don’t begin observing a situation with preconceived notions.  They
can color your observations and keep you from getting to the truth. 
For example. an observer from a big city may assume that people in
rural communities are jealous of his or her lifestyle.  The researcher
may be surprised to discover that such an assumption may be
completely opposite from the truth. Forget what the brand is or what
the client wants it to be.  Try to figure out what it really is.

Remember that you are a researcher and not a spy.  All researchers —
especially those who represent this university — are expected to
engage in ethical conduct.  It is not necessary to lie to someone who
may be curious about what you are doing.  It is all right to tell
someone who you are, who you represent and the reason you are
observing. The worst case scenario is that the person may not wish to
talk to you or will ask you to leave.  If that’s the case, disengage with
courtesy.  However, more often than not, such a disclosure may open
a useful line of conversation that provides meaningful information.

Be super-vigilant. Don’t try to decide what is and is not important while
you are in the field.  Take it all in.  The time for deciding which data
are meaningful and which are not comes later during analysis. 
Sometimes the smallest, most innocuous observation can become an
important key in addressing your client’s needs.  Ask yourself:

What does it look like?
What does it smell lik

2022/3/8 “Autoethnography” in “Ethnography Made Simple” on Manifold Scholarship at CUNY 1/18


Alia R.Tyner-Mullings

While it is an ethnographic method on its own, an autoethnography can also be a good

place to begin an ethnographic investigation. Through it, you can begin to situate yourself

within the larger structural and social system. It allows you to explore your own positionality

before you begin to examine the lives of others as an autothenography is a way to turn

ethnography on yourself and to learn about your life in the same way you might learn about

someone else’s. The process of creating an autoethnography allows you to be reflective on

what makes you who you are and how you came to be. Through this process, an

authoethnography can also help you to look at the larger context in which you live. 1

Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and

systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural

experience (ethno) (Ellis, 2004; Holman Jones, 2005). This approach challenges canonical

ways of doing research and representing others (Spry, 2001) and treats research as a political,

socially-just and socially-conscious act (Adams & Holman Jones, 2008). A researcher uses

tenets of autobiography and ethnography to do and write autoethnography. Thus, as a

method, autoethnography is both process and product.2

History of Autoethnography

So how did autoethnography come to be? In the 1980s, scholars introduced new and

abundant opportunities to reform social science and reconceive the objectives and forms of

social science inquiry. Scholars became increasingly troubled by social science’s ontological,

epistemological, and axiological limitations (Ellis & Bochner, 2000). Furthermore, there was an

increasing need to resist colonialist, sterile research impulses of authoritatively entering a

culture, exploiting cultural members, and then recklessly leaving to write about the culture for

monetary and/or professional gain, while disregarding relational ties to cultural members

(Conquergood, 1991; Ellis, 2007; Riedmann, 1993).

Gradually, scholars across a wide spectrum of disciplines began to consider what social

sciences would become if they were closer to literature than to physics, if they proffered

stories rather than theories, and if they were self-consciously value-centered rather than

pretending to be value free (Bochner, 1994). Many of these scholars turned to

autoethnography because they were seeking a positive response to critiques of canonical

ideas about what research is and how research should be done. In particular, they wanted to

concentrate on ways of producing meaningful, accessible, and evocative research

grounded in personal experience, research that would sensitize readers to issues of iden

AAS 211
March 15, 2022


Check in:
“Talk story”
”What will you do during the break?”
Go over Ethnography and autoethnography

No need to wait or go anywhere
Writing down your observations and thoughts (“taking field notes” or doing “participant observation” – ethnography) is “research.” Talking to people in your community and family (“doing oral history interviewing”) is research. Reflecting on your experiences, especially in the context of various (intersecting) forms of oppression based on race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, age, etc. (“autoethnography”) is research.


The original goals of Ethnic Studies and Asian American Studies were to make academic work relevant and accountable to real people and real communities, so your research is part of this lineage.
The methodologies that I will go over today might help you start right away (if you already haven’t).

Quantitative Method
“Quantitative research (the word ‘quantitative’ comes from the word ‘quantity’) involves information or data in the form of numbers. This allows us to measure or to quantify a whole range of things. For example: the number of people who live below the poverty line; the number of children between specific ages who attend school; the average spending power in a community; or the number of adults who have access to computers in a village or town.”

Surveys are common way of doing quantitative research
“Respondents” answers exact same questions
When have enough responses, put data together and analyse in a way that answers your research question or what you want to know/explore

Observation research
Watch for instances of certain behaviors, patterns, phenomenon, etc.
Media research based on “monitoring criteria” (e.g. specific focus of the article, author, date of publication, length, etc.) For example, “of all articles in major newspapers about the Wen Ho Lee incident, ____% assumed that he was guilty when the story first broke out.”

Quantitative research may reveal important information, but you might want to go into depth with qualitative research
For example, through a survey you may find out that major newspapers portray Asian Americans a certain way, but you want to know the reasons why they do. For that you would want to do interviews the writers, publishers, etc. at the newspapers.

Advantages of surveys

Good for comparative analysis.
Can get lots of data in a relatively short space of time.
Can be cost-effective (if you use the Internet, for example).
Can take less time for respondents to complete (compared to an interview or focus group).

Disadvantages of surveys

Responses may not be specific.
Questions may be misinterpreted.
May not get as many responses as you need.
Don’t get full story.

“The aim of qualitative research is to deepen our understanding about something, and usually this means going beyond the numbers and the statistics

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