Researching Culture (lecture notes)

  • Researching Culture
  • Ethnography
  • What do we mean by culture?
  • An arbitrate hierarchy of importance.
  • Our backgrounds
  • The lived in experience
  • When we think of mass media, we tend to think of artefacts: televisions programmes, ect
  • What is ethnography?
  • Non-academics perspective : can mean deferent things. Is a pitcher or portrait of a group of people, describes a culture from inside the culture. Letting them tell us who they are. Functions as a commentary on our culture. Field work = interaction. Recognising everyone has a story.
  • Is writing and writing, looking and discussing patterns and themes.
  • Academic perspective: happens other a prolonged period of time. Increasing becoming a tool to studie all cultures.
  • ‘in terms of data collection, ethnography usually involves the researcher participating overtly or covertly, in people’s daily ives for an extended period of time….
  • Watching what happens, listening to what is said and or asking questions…..
  • -in fact, gathering whatever data are available to them
  • Participant observation of everyday life.
  • Data collection is unstructured (feildnotes and informal conversations)
  • Focus on a particular group of people
  • Interpretative (qualitative not quantitative)
  • Unstructured or open
  • ‘ the initial interests and questions that motivated’ might of changed


  • Positivism vs Naturalism
  • Positivism:
  • Social science research is similar to research in the physical science
  • Generalizability and universality
  • Research involves testing theories and hypotheses while maintain control other variables.
  • Should be able to test and retest.
  • Laboratory type experiment.
  • Naturalism:
  • The world should be studied in its natural state
  • The world cannot be reduces to universal principles or causal relationships.
  • Human behaviour is complex
  • Both positivism and naturalism..
  • Assume the outsider is more objective
  • The practical and political constraints of the researcher should be disregarded as irrelevant and disrupting objectivity
  • Assume we can understand the social world
  • But…
  • ‘all knowledge of the world is mediated by paradigmatic presuppositions’ (Kuhn, 1962)

Ideas change.

Fashion, dominate ideas and opinions at the time.


Ethnographers respond to this issues by being reflexive.

By being reflexive we recognized that:

We all have presumptions and preconceptions;

The researcher is shaped by their own background and experience;

‘knowledge’ about the social world in turn influences the social world; there is no secure basis to knowledge. (we can not know everything)

  • Schutz and the stranger
  • According to Schutz (1964) we should treat the field site as ‘anthropologically strange’
  • The stranger learns the codes and conventions of any group but retains sense of their objectivity and thus gains an insight unavailable to complete insiders or outsiders.
  • Be aware of your preconceptions
  • When we use Ethnography?
  • 1960s onwards
  • -used in sociology and related disciplines
  • -used to study all cultures
  • – Frequently used in media and cultural studies to study media audiences and institutions. (1980s)
  • Advantages and disadvantages
  • Advantages:
  • Subjective understanding
  • seeing the unseen
  • Immediacy
  • Grounded research- you develop your research as time goes on.
  • Richness and colour ( Gertz –thick description) Get a real in-depth understanding of people and their activities.


  • Disadvantages
  • Observation limits participations
  • Participation limits observation
  • Immediacy is all you get
  • Observation effect
  • Dependent on the perspicacity of the researcher.


  • Example & references
  • James Lull (1988)- World Families Watch Television
  • Fishman (1988) – Manufacturing the news
  • Miller, Jackson and Rowlands (1998) –Shopping place and identity
  • Hansen and Machin (2013)


  • Practical considerations
  • _Access
  • -Ethics –Preparation
  • ‘take cues from how to dress and behave from everyone else, as it is important not to stand out too much and distract people from their work’ (stokes, 2007 p 123)
  • -Recording data.
  • How do we present ethnography?
  • ‘writing artificially constructs representation of cultures often distant from the lived experience of the participants’…

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