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Conducting Ethnographic Research

The resources below are organized to help you develop your ethnographic methodology. Whether you want more direction as to how your theoretical framework supports your methodology or need to access additional research exemplars, the information below is organized according to respective subtopics within the field of ethnography.

Ethnographic Research and Design

Click here to view the PPT slides that will review ethnographic methodology, types of ethnographic research, and how to translate theory to practice within the field.

Ethnographic Research Design in Action!

This video series demonstrates how to do the following: write a research question, make observations within the field, video design studies to your topic and resources.

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Ethnographic Methodology Examples:

If you are looking for topic specific ethnographic examples, the list below is a good place to start. Please note that many of these links host ethnographic research examples by topic.

  • American Indian Film Gallery: Gallery of vintage motion pictures on the American Indian experience, free of charge for viewing and downloading for educational purposes.

  • Bullfrog Films: A source of educational DVDs & videos, with a collection of over 700 titles in these main subject areas: Environment, Globalization, Sustainability, Climate Change, Social Justice, Developing World, Indigenous Peoples, Earth Science, Life Science, Political Science, Performing Arts, Women’s Studies, and Children’s Films.

  • California News Reel: Resource for films and videos on African cinema, race , and diversity and media for educational use.

  • Docu Seek: Several film distributors’ complete collections, films, and videos available.

  • Ethnoscope: Multicultural films & videos.

  • Ethnovisions: Ethnographic documentaries for educational use produced by Wilton Martinez in collaboration with anthropologists, indigenous organizations and NGOs, for use in classrooms.

  • Images of Anthropology: Provides a varied selection of photographs suitable for publication in texts, books, manuscripts, related to different fields of anthropology-archaeology.

  • New Day Films: Democratically run by more than 100 filmmaker members, New Day Films deliver over 300 titles that illuminate, challenge, and inspire communities.

  • Peoples of the World: Education for and about Indigenous Peoples.

  • Tribal Photography & Resources: Photographic resource supporting tribal survival, the defense of human rights and cultural autonomy of indigenous people.

  • Women Make Movies: Established to address the under representation and misrepresentation of women in the media industry, Women Make Movies is a multicultural, multiracial, non-profit media arts organization which facilitates the production, promotion, distribution, and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women.

Download Additional Resources Here!

These resources can help you develop your ethnographic skills, gain access, collect data, and conduct analysis.  You can utilize the summaries to understand the purpose of each study and click on the links to access the studies.  

In this article, the authors present an ethnographic guide that educators can use to provide their students a framework to to conduct inquiry into the unfamiliar worlds. In doing so, students learn to interpret meanings of social practices that are operated outside of what students designated as their own world, In the process of interpreting different social practices, students learn how individuals or communities construct meaning to social practices. This article is helpful because it allows students to conduct research earlier on in their academic pursuits and demystify the research process.

Beach, R. & Finders, M.J. (1999). Students as Ethnographers: Guiding Alternative Research Projects. The English Journal, 89(1), 82­90.

In this article, the author presents a framework for emerging researchers and students.  The framework can be used to organize the data collected and to support the development of the first research draft. The chapters in this section demonstrate how one can organize their paper, state their claims, and support their claims utilizing evidence from their data. This reading is helpful because it breaks down the four key aspects of to developing a research study.

Booth, W.C., Colomb, G.G. & Williams, J.M. (1995). Making a Claim and Supporting It. In The Craft of Research (85­148). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

In this chapter, the author demystifies the ethnographic approach. In doing so, he goes over the popular perception of ethnography, prevalent thinking in ethnography, and a brief history of ethnography. The author argues that ethnography must be more than data collection and analysis, as it should also be utilized as a technique, a method, and a theory. This chapter is helpful in breaking down the components of ethnography, and in doing so it helps eliminates biases of researchers and expands the ways in which researchers can utilize ethnography.

Frake, C.O. (1983). Ethnography. In R.M. Emerson (Ed.) Contemporary Field Research: A Collection of Readings (pp. 60­67). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

In this chapter, the authors demonstrates the importance of participant observation in conducting ethnographic research, the role of the researcher when conducting field notes, and the different ways in which one can write fieldnotes. Participant Observation is the action whereby researcher to immerses themselves within the community when they are researching in order to observe and understand the community. In doing so, reaserchers understand that field-notes are accounts describing experiences and observations the researcher has made while being immersed within the community. However, the ultimate goal of researchers is to write field-notes that capture and preserve the original meanings of the cultural practices. Writing field-notes is useful in ethnography because it details the social, cultural, and interactional processes of the community.  Field-notes also help outline foundation for more comprehensible accounts about the community’s lives and concerns.

Emerson, R.M., Fretz, R.I. & Shaw, L.L. (2011). Fieldnotes in Ethnographic Research. In Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes (pp. 1­16). Chicalgo, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

In this article, the authors provides a four stage guide for community organizations and low ­income communities of color to conduct research. In doing so, communities reclaim research, promote dialogue of community conditions/issues, encourage change, and inform policy. This article is helpful for communities who need a framework to research the problems and issues plaguing their community, and will support communities to articulate their needs to policy makers and to their community members. This guide is useful in ethnography because it demonstrates the research process and allows the communities to affirm themselves as researchers.

Kim, M. & Waheed, S. Documenting Our Lives: A Guide to Designing Your Research, Oakland, CA: Data Center.

In this chapter, the author demonstrates the process of becoming a participant observer in a community by describing her experience as a participant observer to the homeless community in Anchorage, Alaska. In doing so, she documents the struggles of being a participant observer in a community. This personal anecdote is helpful because it details what a researcher might encounter when  working with a community and feelings that may emerge during the research process.

Tierney, G. (2013). Becoming a Participant Observer. In M.V. Angrosino (Ed.), Doing Cultural Anthropology: Projects for Ethnographic Data Collection (pp. 9­18). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

In this article, the author interviews Mitchell Duneier, the writer of the ethnography, Sidewalk, a story of homeless book vendors who make a living by selling books. In doing so, the author highlights the relationship between the ethnographer and individuals who he is writing about, but also how Duneier has given these individuals the platform to tell their stories themselves. The article is useful because it illustrates how the ethnographer and their participants can work collaboratively together to write Sidewalk, and how the ethnographer can establish a relationship with a marginalized community.

Les, B. (2006). Voices from the Sidewalk: Ethnography and Writing Race. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 29(3), 543­565.