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.