Methods to Mind: Long or Short Term Approaches to Ethnographic Research

The following post from culturnicity got me thinking about the ongoing grudge match between those who demand a year in the field [imagine someone with a long beard in an arm-chair saying “to record a full record of experiences during the ecological annum”] compared to those who are more focused on the content and outcomes of the project.  In Ethnography as participant listening, Forsey drives this point home with the following point:

Defining ethnography according to its purpose rather than its method encourages participation in, and engagement with, the lives of our fellow human beings (Forsey, 2011: 569).

In the following post, Casey has moved beyond the debate by focussing on a comparison between what he calls a “Team-Based Categorical Model” and a “Team-Based Geographical Model”.  This is a great example of Forsey’s point and I urge you all to read the entire post, a tidbit of which follows:

Ethnographic Research – Long or Short Term Approach?

Traditional ethnographic research takes a long time, but the time is necessary for an accurate and in depth understanding of the culture or phenomenon under observation.  When an anthropologist embarks on a research project in a totally new area, a year of language study is often needed before detailed ethnographic research can begin.  Fieldwork often lasts 2 or more years.  Such longer term approaches to ethnographic research are crucial for accurate understandings of culture.  These published ethnographies have been the basis for many of the major theories that have arisen in cultural anthropology over the last 150 years.

While there is tremendous value to the long term approach to research, there are instances when a short term model can produce accurate and helpful results.  For example, anthropologists are more readily hired as consultants by companies looking for specific and focused research on a particular aspect of society.  Other times, an anthropologist may be employed to give a general overview of a culture with specific findings and suggested strategies for doing business in the area.

I’ve been involved with several of these short term ethnographic research projects.  In some instances I was the sole researcher.  In other instances I was part of a team commissioned to research and report on some culture or aspect of culture.  I’ve found that the short-term, team approach to ethnographic research can be a very helpful, time efficient means of understanding a culture.  Look at it this way – one researcher can spend two months in an area and put in about 400 hours of research.  A team of eight can spend less than a week in an area and put in the same number of man hours.  In this post, I want to give a brief overview of two approaches to the team based research method, along with pros and cons of each.

via culturnicity | Thinking about culture and all the ologies and icities that go along with it.

Changes at, and an Invitation to Blog

If anyone has paid close attention, which we doubt, to the “masthead” at, you will have noticed some changes.  Our founder and Czar, Mark Dawson, has been kicked upstairs, and is now, “Czar Emeritus. “ So after stints in California, Iraq, Alaska, Afghanistan, and Florida Mark is now reigning from an undisclosed location where he is preparing for this December’s Mayan Apocalypse on behalf of AAA.  In particular, he needs codices about Mayan Magic—you can seek him out at AAA in San Francisco this November—maybe your donation will reach him in time that he can prevent the end of the discipline.  Sadly though, this great task will take him away from, and thus his status as Emeritus.


Mysteriously, since I do not hold the magic codes to the masthead page, I have been promoted to the position of Czar at, a position that did not seem to have much influence or authority when Mark reigned, and may have even less now.  At the same time, two “Anthroguys” from Fresno State, Hank Delcore, and James Mullooly have appeared on the masthead, and I have been assured will be blogging regularly here.  They have a great track record at their Anthrogeek blog (Jim), and the Anthroguys blog (both Hank and Jim), and we look forward to seeing what they throw up here!


But this does not seem to be enough to keep this blog going, and so we invite you, dear reader, to submit blogs of anywhere from 200-1000 words (or so) which might be appropriate.  Email them to me at  They should have something to do with ethnography, academia, social science, or the like.  Laments about the difficulties on the Anthro job market are fine, but so are successes.  Tales about anthropological travel, archaeological shenanigans, learning languages, and other relevant subjects are appropriate.  We also like tales about the successes of anthropologists who do not have a Ph.D. degree, whether or not it makes you the big bucks.  After all the glory is in the chase–


We are not competing with peer-reviewed journals, so your blog should not be too boring, indeed you might even be humorous!  It is also nice if your writing is accessible to the “bright sophomore.” This means to avoid really long sentences, tendentious jargon, and opaque theoretical references. Typos should also be avoided (though somehow they always seem to slip into my writing). If you are faculty, it is o.k. to write about teaching, but please don’t grumble about students.  If you are a student, it is o.k. to complain about faculty—they are big enough to fend for themselves.


In other words, your ethnographic imagination is the limit—blog away.

This Week in Ethnography: Second Digital Ethnography Week _ Trento 17-21 sept. 2012

There is not much to report in “This Week in Ethnography”, a segment I am inventing as a means of reporting on the global pulse of this most important subject.  The one item that jumped out of my feeds at me was that I missed the application deadline (of July 22, 2012) for the:

Second Digital Ethnography Week _ Trento 17-21 sept. 2012

The second “Digital Ethnography Week” (DEW), an intensive week focused on the study of digital methods and digital ethnographic approaches. The DEW is intended for Ph.D. students and researchers interested in developing advanced methodological skills to account for the digital in contemporary social life.
As their website reports, this looks like a great opportunity for aspiring digital ethnographers.
Ethnography and Journalism
Be warned: The Data Journalism School in Rome is involved in this effort.  I know the conflation of ethnography and journalism is shocking to some. During my graduate training, I recall one of the senior faculty members of my anthropology program criticizing a students’ work by referring to it as “journalism”.  The context for this event was a thesis draft presentation based on ethnographic fieldwork in a doctoral colloquium.  I believe the Professor’s intention was to imply that the student was “only out for a story” and had “little theoretical or methodological reasoning” for how they had generated the data they were reporting on.
The irony of this situation was that this was a program in applied anthropology.  In any event, let us not “throw the baby out with the bath water” or in this case, throw good data or solid technique out with the researcher using it.  Data Journalism is a fantastic means of getting at reality.  For example, check out the following TED talk by David McCandless: The beauty of data visualization and try to tell me that this “journalist” is “only out for the story”.

Another Definition of “Culture”—Chinese Version!

I am travelling in China, and here found yet another definition of the word “culture.” I thought that this definition might be worth posting on where Googling Anthro 101 students seeking to write that obligatory “write and discuss the meaning of culture” essay might land! So here is a Chinese definition to add to those from your textbook.

In written Chinese, the word for “culture” is “Wen Hua” (文化) which is made up of two characters, i.e. the character “Wen” (文) that is usually translated by itself as “language,” and a second Hua (化) which is usually translated by itself as “change, melt, dissolve.” Taken by themselves, the two characters can be roughly translated as “changing of a language.” But put together, they take on the meaning of “culture.”.

The equation of language and culture of course is not unique to Chinese—plenty of 20th century English-writing anthropologists have made this connection. However, I like the combination with the character for “change, melt, dissolve” because it implies what we all know well about culture—not only is culture connected to language, but both language and culture re in constant flux—the change! So for those of you struggling with that essay, you can cite the wisdom of the Chinese definition of culture by noting that culture is by Chinese definition transformational!