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-Fieldwork in anthropology involves experiencing something of other people’s lives, and becoming familiar with their activities in their context.
-Used in all subfields of anthropology
- Done in environments ranging from small or isolated communities to large urban and even virtual environments.


Digital Anthropologists

-Explore virtual societies and digital communities
-Conduct research about on- and offline practices that are shaped by digitalisation
-Observe and record the relationship between humans and digital technology, in subject matters such as, gaming on a global platform, emerging ‘cultures’ in social media, childhood cyberbullying and the impact of dubbed movies on a specific culture.



-Ethnography is the method anthropologists use to collect information or data and document and record the lives and culture of human societies in the field.
-Involves more than just describing the people and their activities or only collecting information or data.


Etymology of ethnography

Comes from the Greek ethnos (people) and graphein (to write).


Ethnographic research

One of the characteristic features of anthropology and specifically involves first-hand, direct “face-to-face” contact with the people being studied.


Ethnographic fieldwork

The important aspect of ethnography is spending a prolonged period of time with a study group, writing down (recording) their findings and reporting on the data collected. This is called ethnographic fieldwork, because ethnography is both the process and the product of fieldwork.


Emic or insider approach

To be aware of how the people, themselves, perceive their world and what has meaning for them


Etic approach

The focus of research shifts from people’s own categories, explanations and interpretations to those of the anthropologist. The researcher works from the assumption that people are so subjectively involved in their own lifestyle that they find it difficult to have an impartial view of it.



The act of speaking, describing or portraying something on behalf of someone or something.



The inclination of people to regard their own sociocultural system or way of life as superior. They use the values and practices of their own system to judge the behaviour and beliefs of others. Although ethnocentrism enhances sociocultural solidarity and a sense of community among people who share similar traditions, it encourages the belief that people, who behave differently, are strange, immoral, primitive or even barbaric. People tend to believe that their own familiar explanations, opinions and customs are correct, proper, true and moral.


Cultural relativism

Suggests that behaviour in a specific sociocultural system should not be judged by the values and norms of another system. In other words, a group, community or society’s behaviour, ideas, beliefs and customs should be studied and understood within their own context and judged as equally valid.


Downfall to cultural relatvism

If taken to the extreme, cultural relativism can, however, also be problematic. It could imply that there is no such thing as a universal human morality. If a person adopts this view, then, for example, s/he has to accept the practice of female genital mutilation; clitoridectomy etc.


Participant observation

Fieldwork done by an anthropologist, who studies the way of life of a group of people by sharing in and observing their activities.
The “participation” part implies that the researcher commits his or her thoughts, emotions, feelings, and so on, to the real-world fieldwork setting. The “observer” part implies that the researcher records his or her observations in an objective, scientific and systematic manner.


Participant observation founder

Introduced into anthropology by Bronislaw Malinowski
In his ethnographic book, “Argonauts of the Western Pacific: an account of native enterprise and adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian”, he challenged traditional ethnographers, who were interviewing individuals from their own “verandas”, to observe situations first-hand, while living with the people they were studying. Malinowski en-couraged them to engage with the community, eat their food, partake in their everyday life and also to learn the local language.


Applied anthropology: drought in the Sahel

A severe drought in 1984 resulted in a famine of alarming proportions. International aid organisations sent food relief in the form of grain to people who were ac-customed to a diet of mainly dairy products.
Development organisations initiated programmes to prevent future famines. But, many mistakes were made since insufficient cognisance was taken of the environment and the culture of local people. According to Howard and Dunaif-Hattis (1992:607–608):Problems could have been avoided if anthropologists, with their holistic perspective on, knowledge of the culture and adaptation problems of the pastoralists, as well as their sensitivity to human problems, were consulted.


Anthropologists’ responsibilities include the following:

•Cooperating with agriculturists, geographers, engineers and other scientists in multidisciplinary teams on development projects in a local community
•Doing sociocultural impact studies so that communities are not disrupted when buildings are erected, highways and dams constructed and oil pipelines laid
•Playing the role of cultural broker or mediator between the government or planners and the local community when the latter has to be moved for some reason, for example during dam construction or a resettlement campaign


The discipline brings two kinds of insights:

•It produces data and knowledge of the actual sociocultural variation of human systems around the world.
•Its methods of research, or fieldwork, and theoretical perspectives make it possible to compare and understand variations and similarities in the expression of the human condition


The term “native” implies:

The term “native” implies birth or origin a specific place. Although this word was commonly used in the past to refer to indigenous people, it has become an offensive word as it seen as a synonym for primitive or cultural backwardness. Used as an adjective, however, it is still considered acceptable, for example: Native American or native language.


One of the main objectives of participant observation:

To encounter the host group or community in their “everyday life”. Rather than putting people into artificial or “experimental” situations, the anthropologist observes them – often by just “hanging around” for lengthy periods of time. The participant observer is not seeking concise answers to specific questions. Instead of interviewing the people concerned via questionnaires, they talk about their ordinary, daily situation. They have long conversations, at least partly on their own terms, to obtain versions of the issues at hand and their study groups’ reflections about their own existence.


The genealogical method

An ethnographic technique was developed by early anthropologists in their study of the principles of kinship, descent and marriage.
They record genealogical data to reconstruct family history and to gain an understanding of relationships among the people they are studying.
Initially, anthropologists mainly studied preliterate communities in rural areas and, for these people, kinship was extremely important, because it determined an individual’s status and position.


What does the genealogical method essentially entail

Essentially entails questioning informants about their relatives (kin), naming all those they can remember, living or dead, and indicating the nature of the relation-ship between them. Genealogical kinship diagrams, or a family tree, are drawn and, at the same time, anthropologists discover the kinship terms used by the people (father, mother, cousin, mother-in-law, etc), marriage conventions and descent rules. Succession and inheritance were also determined according to kinship relations.


Why study kinship

Kinship was the key to understanding the structure and function of a community – economically, politically, ritually and more.


Network analysis

To trace and understand social relations in a wider sense than just those based on kinship, anthropologists make use of personal social network analysis. This strategy incorporates relationships beyond those established by kinship and marriage and includes relationships derived from friendship, the workplace, sport or a common interest. Tracing an informant’s social network starts with the individual and radiates outwards, like a spider’s web, to include family, friends, acquaintances and other, less important and even sporadic, relations.


Life history method

Anthropologist asks an informant for an autobiography or life history. As the individual recounts the things that have shaped his or her life, s/he interprets life’s events by reference to his/her sociocultural system. In the process, s/he will reveal insights into the ways s/he and, by extension, other members of the community, perceive their world. Life his-tories also provide data about how individuals adjust to the restraints placed on them by their sociocultural system and to the things that have happened to them.


Research topic

Preparation begins with the selection of a research topic, which involves deciding on where and how the fieldwork is to be done.


Research proposal

•A delimitation of the research area or field and the theoretical orientation of the proposal
•An exhaustive study of the relevant subject and other literature
•The relevance and significance of the research•a depiction of the people who are the focus of the investigation
•A discussion of the research methodology, and techniques that will be used to collect data
•The probable duration and phases or stages of the research
•A budget for the expenses of the researcher and assistants


Culture shock

The result of being in strange circumstances with people and things that, at first, you do not understand.
People, who suddenly find them self in a different environment, often experience a feeling of disorientation. This is because much is unfamiliar; the other people, the environment, finding your way around, the local practices, rules, etiquette, customs, etcetera


Anthropological self-criticism

•Are the reports or texts that anthropologist produce true reflections or representations of the people and sociocultural systems they study?
•Do they report on what they perceive about peoples’ values, lifestyle, etcetera, or what the people’s values and lifestyle actually are – or, at least, what these are from their perspective?
•Do anthropologists not take their own personal or sociocultural biases and assumptions into the field with them?
•Isn’t the very presence of an anthropologist (an outsider) in the field disruptive and does such a presence not influence the behaviour of the people studied – therefore distorting the data?
•Don’t anthropologists go into the field and impose upon people for what they can get out rather than for what they can give back?
To counter or minimise above scenarios, anthropologists started questioning their research results.


“New ethnography" self-criticisms

-Narrative ethnography
-Compassionate turn

The “new ethnography” is continuously concerned with issues, such as:
•the power relation between the anthropologist (researcher) and the people studied•objectivity as opposed to subjectivity
•modes (ways/styles) of representing or depicting those studied
•the emic and the etic approaches
•ethnocentrism versus cultural relativism



The awareness of the relationship between power and the construction of knowledge.
Reflexivity requires that researchers assess the effect of their presence, and their research techniques, on the nature and extent of the data collected.