Skip to Main Content
Ask Us!Toggle Chat Widget

Anthropology: Ethnography


Ethnography as Process: "Ethnography is a methodology–a theory, or set of ideas–about research that rests on a number of fundamental criteria. Ethnography is iterative-inductive research; that is to say it evolves in design through the study (see analysis, coding, fieldnotes, grounded theory, and induction). Ethnography draws on a family of methods, involving direct and sustained contact with human agents, within the context of their daily lives (and cultures), watching what happens, listening to what is said, and asking questions (see interviews, participant observation, and visual ethnography). It results in richly written accounts that respect the irreducibility of human experience (see writing), acknowledges the role of theory (see generalisation), as well as the researcher's own role (see reflexivity), and views humans as part object/part subject" (O'Reilly, Karen. 2009. Key Concepts in Ethnography. London: SAGE).

Ethnography as Product: An ethnography is the first-hand, descriptive written account of a particular culture or group, focusing on a particular population, place and time that an anthropologist produces from their participant observation of the culture or group. Ethnographies may be long (book length) or short (book chapter or journal articles).

Where to Find Ethnographies - Full Length Books

Ethnographies can be found in reference books and in peer-reviewed journal articles, but they are most often published as full-length books written by a single author. Because books in the library are organized by the region or culture being described and not by the genre of writing, there is no simple method of searching for ethnographies. Here are some suggested techniques for searching for ethnographies using the Library Catalog advanced search.

  • Type "social life and customs" in one search box AND a word for a culture, group or region in a second box (for example, "Inuit" or "New Guinea"). Limit the search results to "Book."
  • Type "ethnography" or "ethnology" in one search box AND a culture or region, such as "Africa," in a second box. Limit the search results to "Book."
  • A series of short ethnographies has been published under the title "Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology."
  • The series "Contemporary Ethnography" also includes ethnographies.
  • Identify a specific anthropologist by name and search the Library Catalog to see if they have published an ethnography. One source to consult is the Biographical Dictionary of Social and Cultural Anthropology (2004) on the 1st floor of the library.
  • Search Google Books, Amazon, or WorldCat (see below) to identify books MTSU doesn't own. Use Interlibrary Loan to request a copy. *Watch a short video about using Interlibrary Loan*

Recommended Databases

Many ethnographies will not include the word "ethnographic" in their title or keywords. Start an article search by using group names and/or names of regions. Add a topic keyword if appropriate. Examples: Xavante AND Brazil, or Kinship AND Oceania. You may also try adding terms such as ethno* anthro* or culture in order to limit results.

Journals for Ethnography

Ethnographies are published in a wide variety of journals, including anthropology journals. A few selected journals are provided below, but this list is not comprehensive.