What's wrong with ethnography? The myth of theoretical description

Hammersley, Martyn (1990). What's wrong with ethnography? The myth of theoretical description. Sociology, 24(4) pp. 597–615.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0038038590024004003


This paper questions the commitment of ethnography to the goal of producing theoretical descriptions of particular settings, groups or organisations. It is argued that both the concepts of theory and description assumed by this goal are misconceived. Various interpretations of the concept of theory embedded in ethnographic work are examined, revealing some serious difficulties. It is also argued that the concept of ethnographic description, as currently conceived, obscures the role of values and purposes in structuring descriptions. The conclusion reached is that the goals of ethnographic research need rethinking.

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