The Penn Anthropology Department defines ethnography as: “(1) the fundamental research method of cultural anthropology, and (2) the written text produced to report ethnographic research results.” Penn’s site further notes that: “Ethnography as method seeks to answer central anthropological questions concerning the ways of life of living human beings. Ethnographic questions generally concern the link between culture and behavior and/or how cultural processes develop over time. The data base for ethnographies is usually extensive description of the details of social life or cultural phenomena in a small number of cases. In order to answer their research questions and gather research material, ethnographers (sometimes called fieldworkers) often live among the people they are studying, or at least spend a considerable amount of time with them. While there, ethnographers engage in ‘participant observation,’ which means that they participate as much as possible in local daily life (everything from important ceremonies and rituals to ordinary things like meal preparation and consumption) while also carefully observing everything they can about it.”
As part of my graduate work, I once had to produce an ethnographic report of a culture of my chossing, after completing extensive field research within it. I chose to study American Hardcore Music, around which I’ve spent far more time than I should probably admit since its earliest, formative days in Washington, DC, nearly three decades ago. I conducted interviews, went to a bunch of shows, dug up years worth of old reviews, interviews and notes, and parsed it all using the ethnographer’s tools to find the common threads between and meanings of the rituals that hardcore culture embraces. I was pleased with the end result, as I ended up with a very different understanding of the culture than I had assumed would be the case when I started the analysis. Click the link below for introduction into this most fascinating of American subcultures . . .