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What are ethnographies?

Ethnographies are a book length,

first hand, extensive description (or picture) of the daily way of life or cultural practice of a particular group of people

insider's account of the culture based on the author’s interactions and participant observation / field work with the group that is the subject of the ethnography   

written by an anthropologist, possibly a sociologist, who has conducted their detailed study while being immersed in the particular culture, often living with the people, over a period of time, often years

Ethnographies may be focused on traditional or contemporary cultures and are usually published by academic publishers.

Ethnographies might focus on:

  • the people of a particular country, continent or region of the world e.g. Northern Ireland, Caribbean, Canada, China, Brazil, Africa
  • a particular group of people or society?  e.g.

the Zande (in Africa), Toraja (Indonesian People), Romanies (older books use the term Gypsies), Masai, Inuit (older books use the term Eskimos),  Quechua Indians, Palestinian Arabs, Maya

college students, drug dealers, street children, surrogate mothers, teenage boys, ultra-Orthodox Jews, homeless persons, Muslim girls, nurses’ aides, bicycle messengers, policewomen, transgender people, criminals, soldiers, welfare recipients, middle class families, male prostitutes, young adults, gay fathers, teenage automobile drivers, soccer fans, wildfire fighters, women body builders

  • a specific custom, aspect or way of contemporary life  

ethnic identities, drinking customs, male friendship, reindeer herding, sex roles, drug use, traditional farming, soccer, witchcraft, recreational vehicle living, forced migration, initiation rites, gangs, alcohol use, spirit possession, parenting, khat, virtual reality, sex customs, open source software

Combine Library of Congress subject headings and subheadings

Use LibrarySearch - Advanced search to more precisely retrieve relevant books/videos or the Browse search. (The Browse Subject search will list all the subject headings using the term(s) you entered and the numbers of book/videos attached to each term.) 
Search for some combination of 
  1. the name of a people, a geographic region or a country and 
  2. a Library of Congress subject subdivision that is frequently, but not exclusively, used for ethnographies, e.g.         

          ethnology                                     social life and customs 

social conditions                           social aspects

alcohol use                                   economic conditions

death                                            ethnic relations

funeral customs and rites               family

kinship                                          religion

rites and ceremonies                      sexual behavior

medical care                                 sex role

Sample subject heading/subdivisions combinations:

Muslim women - Canada
Rites and ceremonies - India

Xhosa (African people) - Rites and ceremonies.                   
Batuan (Indonesia) - Religious life and customs.               
Goth culture (Subculture) - Great Britain

Internet - Social aspects

Hints :

   Use the  ? to say "I don't care what letters come after this", e.g.

relig? retrieves religion, religious, religiosity

   If your term is a phrase, change "any of these" to "as a phrase"

Assessing authority and credibility

Authority is constructed and contextual.

  • How can we assess "ethnographic authority"?

Information has value to its audiences.

  • How do we know the audience of an ethnography?

Book reviews can give us insight into the critical reception of an ethnography and help provide context:

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Joel Blechinger
Phone: 403.440.8624
Office: EL4423E