What is ethnography? Can it survive? Should it?

Hammersley, Martyn (2018). What is ethnography? Can it survive? Should it? Ethnography and Education, 13(1) pp. 1–17.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17457823.2017.1298458


This paper notes that, in the field of education and beyond, the term ‘ethnography’ has acquired a range of meanings, and comes in many different versions, these often reflecting sharply divergent orientations. I argue that this is a major problem that requires attention; particularly since today there are some serious threats to the practice of ethnographic work, on almost any definition. However, while we need to forge greater agreement about the meaning of the term, this is a challenging task. Indeed, if we take ‘ethnography’ to refer to a whole methodological approach little agreement will be possible. I argue that it may be feasible if we treat ethnography as one methodological strategy among others, each having varying advantages and disadvantages for the purposes of investigating particular topics. However, the fundamental disagreements among ethnographers today about ontological, epistemological, and axiological matters render even this by no means unproblematic.

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