What makes ethnography distinctive as a research methodology compare to other approaches to study social deviance?
Ethnographies of deviant behavior are one of the most popular within the sociological genre. It identifies studies that involves ‘personal observation, interaction, and experience (as) the only way to acquire accurate knowledge about deviant behaviour’ (Adler, 1985:11) Ethnography requires having a input to various fields such as anthropology, sociology and criminology in order to highlight research that encounters deviance in natural setting. Ethnographic methods differs from many other approaches because it isn’t simply a prescribed set of methods, it is a methodology that take in account of the complexity of human experience and involves in-depth research and sustained observation of human behavior.
Ethnographic research is descriptive, subjective, analytical and comparative. Even though ‘qualitative interviewing’ and other more formal methodologies are usually part of an ethnographic study, the hallmark of ethnographic research is ‘participant observation’. The purposes of the participant observation are to observe activities, people and physical aspects of situation and also to engage in activities that provide detailed information in a given situation. They use observational methods such as interview with open-ended questions and audio, video recordings of behaviours.
Ethnographic researches rely on themselves unlike experimental research which relies on tests and questionnaires. Ethnographers are the major instruments of data collection since they collect their data through fieldwork. They immerse themselves in the life of a social group in order to obtain all the necessary data. It also employs a holistic research method which means that ethnography is based on the idea that system’s properties cannot be accurately as the sum of its individual elements. This means that ethnographer not only just observes every individual aspect of the society but experience the entire social context by striving for complete immersion.
Also during observations, ethnographers regular uses informal or conversational interview that allows them to discuss, examine evolving issues and ask questions about unusual events in a naturalistic manner. Due to the casual nature of this kind of interview, this allows the ethnographers to elicit highly candid accounts from individuals. In order to ehance the quality of their work, the ethnographers often provides a detailed description of the research setting and it’s participants which will be based on long hours of direct observation and interviews. Ethnographic work often uses methodological triangulation which is a technique designed to compare and contrast different types of method that helps to provide more widespread insights into the phenomenon under study.
Ethnography as a social science method uses both terms ‘Positivism’ and ‘Interpretivism’ which allows the ethnographers to get best of both worlds. Positivism is an experimental method and is empirical as it looks for ‘laws’. Experimental method manipulates variables in controlled environment and produces quantitative data. In comparison to Positivism, the Interpretivism uses qualitative methods to get a meaning and interpretation. Reflexivity is a central element of ethnographic work as it takes in account of the relationship the ethnographer shares with participants. Reflexivity is presented in the forms of a description of the ethnographer’s ideas and experiences.
Overall, ethnographic methods is best fit to study social deviance because of it’s many qualities that allows the ethnographers to produce very detailed observation and analysis of data.