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Ethnographic research techniques

Ethnography is a holistic approach to research developed by anthropologists in order to understand people within their social and cultural contexts. The underlying theoretical basis of ethnography is that people’s actions and thoughts are dependent on a vast range of factors and what they say and do in one context is not necessarily what they actually do in another. Therefore to fully understand peoples’ behaviour, opinions and decision-making processes, a researcher must spend time with them in their various physical and social environments. The primary method of the ethnographer is ‘participant observation’. This involves the immersion of the researcher into the lives of those that they are studying. The ethnographer seeks not only to observe and enquire about situations people are faced with, but to participate within them. The exact nature of the participation is balanced with cultural and practical sensitivity, but in various settings it will involve the ethnographer spending a day shadowing a respondent in their home, educational, and social environments.