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Chapter 1-4

ANTHROP 3P03 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1-4: Trobriand Islands, Margaret Mead, Ethnography

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Ellen Badone

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Commentary: Ethnography Essentials Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4
In the first chapter, the author, Murchison describes and explains what ethnographies are,
what ethnographers do to obtain an ethnography, which studies used ethnographies, and the
purposes of ethnographies; as well as the information they provide. To answer these, the author
gives a ‘brief’ history of ethnographies, and how they developed as a research strategy that
allows researchers to study and examine cultures and societies. An ethnography as described by
the author is firsthand data obtained through activities such as participant observation and
interviews with the research subjects; in other words the researcher is the research instrument.
The author gives examples of famous anthropologists such as Bronislaw Malinowski, and
Margaret Mead, known for their work on the Trobriand Islanders, and coming of age in Samoa,
respectively. The author also does a good and concise job in showing how ethnography has
changed as well as how ethnographies do not necessarily have a standard or a classic model. The
author gives the example of Katherine Frank, who did her ethnography by participating as a
stripper in numerous strip clubs. Do most ethnographies fit in the classic ethnography model?
The second chapter covers how a topic should be chosen, and the subsequent information
recorded and stored. The author gives a good tip in choosing a topic; write what you know, as
topics of interest tend to be easier to write about. Possible topics can be found anywhere; by
location, individuals, or events. An ethnographic topic should be focused more narrowly, but
should be open enough to allow the researcher to records different types of information, whether
or not the information supports the hypotheses or not. The topic chosen must also be topic that
can typically only be addressed by ethnography. Once a possible topic has been chosen, the
author must obtain consent from all parties involved, in order for the ethnography to be created.
The researcher has numerous ethical responsibilities to the parties involved; accessibility to the
ethnography and to the group and location being studied, and privacy of those involved to name
a couple. I believe the author did a concise job in describing what is involved in choosing a topic
for a possible ethnography.
The third chapter deals with creating a research question on which the ethnography is
based upon. In creating the ethnography first hand methods are employed in obtaining
information, including participant observation, interviews, and making use of maps and charts,
while keeping in mind ethical obligations, availability of informants, as well as the time involved
in creating the ethnography. Time is most likely the most limiting factor in the ethnography, as in
this course, it is limited to a semester, until the early days of April, 2017. If less time is available,
less first hand methods are used. Where does the author’s experience about writing on how to
create an ethnography come from?
The fourth chapter deals with creating and writing a proposal. There are five steps as
listed by the author: introduction, appropriate literature review and statement of research
questions, plan and methods, as well as a summary of what results are expected. The relevance
of the ethnography must be stated, and the proposal must be approved by human subjects review
committees, and agreed to by the research subjects. As part of this, human subjects must be
protected in terms of confidentiality or anonymity, usually through the use of pseudonyms. I
agree with the author’s statement that the subject must be ‘protected’.
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