Qualitative and Ethnographic Methods

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Qualitative and



Educational Unit: Human, Social, Psychological and Economic Contexts


Keywords: qualitative research, ethnography, data collection and analysis


The objective of qualitative research is to gather non-numerical data, to provide more nuanced accounts of the subject under study. This includes people’s subjective opinions, beliefs and behaviours, which cannot be represented through measurement.

Ethnographic Research is the systematic, emplaced study of people and cultures to better understand existing and emerging societal and cultural trends. It is a form of research that relies on qualitative methods of data collection. An ethnography focusses on immersion in the culture of a particular group and represents findings on cultural phenomena in visual and written format. Traditionally an ethnography was conducted over a long term (months or even years), but recently academics have argued for the validity of shorter term studies of a particular culture (Pink and Morgan, 2013) which are common in ‘design ethnography’ (Lindley, Sharma and Potts, 2014; Murphy, 2016). Culture can refer both to traditional ideas of a group within a fixed location who share ideas, values and behaviours (e.g. a local or national identity), but also to shared practices, behaviours, or values which are distributed across space and time. This ‘multi-sited’ approach to ethnography, proposed by George Marcus (1999, 2005) reflects the growth of globally distributed cultures, connected by digital technologies.

Indicative Content

  • participant observation

  • note-taking

  • visual capture

  • semi-structured data collection techniques

  • interviews

  • focus groups,

  • methods of analysis

  • ethics and consent

See also