Ethnographic Field Research Methods

Edicta Grullón, Rhode Island College

This thesis also has an additional PDF file available as supplemental content. It contains an updated chapter on ethics, as well as correspondence between the author and Carolyn Fluehr and Richard Lobban.


Ethnography is an important endeavor that serves as a tool for understanding diverse forms of living and experiencing the world. Ethnographic data collected is beneficial for meeting the cultural demands and needs of others. Ethnographic research tools, such as participant observation and questionnaires, have been developed for studying other cultures. However, greater emphasis and reflexivity needs to be given to the role of the anthropologist in the field. The ethnographer is not a one-way street. How slhe is perceived by the local community is imperative to the access of cultural data and the quality of data gathered. The ethnographer's training should focus on abiding by a code of ethics that emphasizes concern for the well being of the subjects studied. Ethnographic research methods are herein presented along with characteristics (evidential and non-evidential 'identities') of an anthropologist that may affect his/her access to information and the quality of data collected. Several examples of field researchers' experiences are presented. Muslim North Africa is considered as a region demanding attention to its specific cultural realities. These examples address cultural factors in determining appropriate research processes for access to and quality of data. A greater focus on the ethnographer as a research tool and the emphasis on abiding by ethnographic ethical standards would continue to improve the quality of ethnographic data, and the value of its applications. In training anthropologists on research tools, equal emphasis needs to be given to reflexivity and our responsibilities as ethnographers to the people studied.