Ethnography (from Greek ἔθνος ethnos "folk, people, nation" and γράφω grapho "I write") is the systematic study of people and cultures. It is designed to explore cultural phenomena where the researcher observes society from the point of view of the subject of the study. An ethnography is a means to represent graphically and in writing the culture of a group. The word can thus be said to have a double meaning, which partly depends on whether it is used as a count noun or uncountable.[1] The resulting field study or a case report reflects the knowledge and the system of meanings in the lives of a cultural group.[2][3][4]

As a method of data collection, ethnography entails examining the behaviour of the participants in a certain specific social situation and also understanding their interpretation of such behaviour.[5] Dewan (2018) further elaborates that this behaviour may be shaped by the constraints the participants feel because of the situations they are in or by the society in which they belong. Ethnography, as the presentation of empirical data on human societies and cultures, was pioneered in the biological, social, and cultural branches of anthropology, but it has also become popular in the social sciences in general—sociology,[6] communication studies, history—wherever people study ethnic groups, formations, compositions, resettlements, social welfare characteristics, materiality, spirituality, and a people's ethnogenesis.[7] The typical ethnography is a holistic study[8][9] and so includes a brief history, and an analysis of the terrain, the climate, and the habitat. In all cases, it should be reflexive, make a substantial contribution toward the understanding of the social life of humans, have an aesthetic impact on the reader, and express a credible reality. An ethnography records all observed behavior and describes all symbol-meaning relations, using concepts that avoid causal explanations. Traditionally, ethnography was focussed on the western gaze towards the far 'exotic' east, but now researchers are undertaking ethnography in their own social environment. According to Dewan (2018), even if we are the other, the ‘another’ or the ‘native’, we are still ‘another’ because there are many facades of ourselves that connect us to people and other facades that highlight our differences.[5]

History and meaning

Bernardino de Sahagún is known as the first modern ethnographer[10]

The word 'ethnography' is derived from the Greek ἔθνος (ethnos), meaning "a company, later a people, nation" and -graphy, meaning "writing". Ethnographic studies focus on large cultural groups of people who interact over time. Ethnography is a set of qualitative methods that are used in social sciences that focus on the observation of social practices and interactions.[11] Its aim is to observe a situation without imposing any deductive structure or framework upon it and to view everything as strange or unique.[12]

The field of anthropology originated from Europe and England designed in late 19th century. It spread its roots to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. Some of the main contributors like E. B. Tylor (1832–1917) from Britain and Lewis H. Morgan (1818–1881), an American scientist, were considered as founders of cultural and social dimensions. Franz Boas (1858–1942), Bronislaw Malinowski (1884—1942), Ruth Benedict (1887–1948), and Margaret Mead (1901–1978), were a group of researchers from the United States who contributed the idea of cultural relativism to the literature. Boas's approach focused on the use of documents and informants, whereas Malinowski stated that a researcher should be engrossed with the work for long periods in the field and do a participant observation by living with the informant and experiencing their way of life. He gives the viewpoint of the native and this became the origin of field work and field methods.