Thursday, August 4, 2011

What makes a good ethnographer?


What makes a good ethnographer? Members of the Ethnography Forum group at LinkedIn have been holding an ongoing discussion regarding this important question, and I found their responses to be insightful, useful and so spot on that I wanted to reproduce a summarized version, in list form, of their replies, with a couple additions of my own. I think these traits are applicable to ethnographers in both consumer/marketing contexts as well as more traditional contexts (academic, international, community-based, etc.)

A Good Ethnographer...


Is curious
Is open-minded
Has a sociable personality
Is flexible and can adapt to changing situations
Is good at delving deeper into cultural phenomena
Knows how to translate insights into action
Appropriately probes for deeper meaning
Does not rigidly stick to discussion/observation guides but uses them as just that: guides
Has empathy
Is adventurous and is not afraid to take risks
Is able to establish rapport and relationships
Asks good questions
Is a good listener and observer
Is self-reflexive
Has excellent data collection and analysis skills
Can sit back and let others talk or ask questions and solicit information when necessary/timely
Is a good story-teller
Understands the implications of findings within organizational or other contexts
Can explain their methods to others (especially clients)
Can pull the meaning out of the mundane

Here are a few I would add:

Is well-prepared before fieldwork, having done the necessary research, but does not let this preparation cloud the research or any opportunities for discovery
Enters situations well aware of positionality, biases and assumptions
Considers both emic and etic perspectives
Iteratively analyzes data and reflects on process
Is respectful of and grateful to those who are sharing their time, knowledge and other human resources
Goes into situations as an observer with minimal influence on participants
Incorporates both theory and application
Is good at describing not only the who, what, where, when and how, but also the WHY

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