The Association for Qualitative Research
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An introduction to ethnography

This was a Breakfast Bites which our author felt both curious and anxious about. But she needn't have worried: and she left with key tips on how to approach research, and life.

I came to AQR’s "Introduction to Ethnography" Breakfast Bites session, hosted by Helle Thorsen and Ellie Tait from the Ipsos Ethnography Centre of Excellence, with a mix of curiosity and anxiety. Curiosity at how Ipsos "does" ethnography, how it sells it to clients, as well as any logistical tips and tricks. Anxiety at the thought it might be using the term "ethnography" loosely, as is often the case in our industry. “Just because you film an in-home interview, it does not make it ethnography”, I have been known to point out passionately. “Just call it an in-home immersion or something that actually reflects what you are doing.”

Relief is, therefore, what I felt when Helle and Ellie started talking, as their take on ethnography blended academic rigour and commercial reality. They spoke about ethnography as a longitudinal, observational, involved study, where the researcher doesn’t just aim to be an impartial fly on the wall, but rather gets involved, establishes a connection, participates. And they recognised the difficulties in convincing clients to agree to small sample sizes, unstructured interviewing and the lack of a double-sided mirror.

Their presentation also covered a brief history of ethnography,practical tools and techniques for fieldwork, a framework for cultural analysis, and some welcome suggestions on how to convince clients that ethnography is the right approach. All this was supported with specific examples. I think I speak for all in attendance in saying that the short clip of the middle-aged couplemeasuring their blood pressure was a firm favourite.

And the best part? Their "Six key principles not to f**k up", which perfectly rounded off the session and can easily be applied to other qualitative approaches:

1. Make friends
2. Go beyond the set questions
3. Be spontaneous
4. Make it natural
5. Be naïve
6. Look out for the say vs do

I think I may print those out and use them as life advice, too.

 

Rafaela Peteanu
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