Reading & Research:

Ethnographies are the signature publication of anthropological scholarship. Ethnography is a rather unusual genre of academic writing because it combines analytical argumentation with detailed, evocative descriptions of the people and communities that are the subjects of the research.

An ethnography typically seeks to evoke a local social world. To enter that world, you need to accept the author’s bona fides and the portrait he has painstakingly sketched, at least until your instincts as a reader provide you with ample evidence to doubt them.  

TIP: Introductions of Ethnographies

The author’s intentions are often made explicit in the introduction, moving back and forth between foreground and background during subsequent chapters before becoming highlighted once again in the conclusion. 



DO: Pay attention to your own responses — Where is your attention gripped? Where does it flag? Where do you find yourself skeptical or wanting more information? — Doing this will provide you with a sound basis for assessing both the strengths and weaknesses of the book.

DO: Pay attention to the way in which these various types of data reinforce (or contradict) other, while assessing each form of evidence on its own terms.

DO: Tailor your focus to different sections of the book: skimming some sections, closely reading (and re-reading) others, and underlining or highlighting key terms, phrases and claims that recur throughout.

DO: Because the argument of an ethnography is worked out throughout its narrative arc, you will need to preview, read, and distill the point of each chapter in order to discern whether the book succeeds in executing the author’s intentions.

DON’T:  Get caught up in the personalities and events evoked in the text that you are at a loss to discern which details are primarily evocative and which serve as building blocks for an argument.