Relational constructionism

by Dian Marie Hosking


Ethnography can be thought of as a method of studying and learning about a person or group of people. Typically, ethnography involves the study of a small group of subjects in their own environment. Rather than looking at a small set of variables and a large number of subjects, the ethnographer attempts to get a detailed understanding of the circumstances of the few subjects being studied. Ethnographic accounts, then, are both descriptive and interpretive; descriptive, because detail is so crucial, and interpretive, because the ethnographer must determine the significance of what she observes without gathering broad, statistical information. (Source: Learning Commons)

Modern and postmodern approaches

It is important to note that, just as with narrative and discursive approaches, there are modern and postmodern approaches towards ethnography. The Department of Anthropology College of Arts and Sciences of The University of Alabama provides a page about postmodernism (and its critics) in the context of ethnography and anthropology.

Egon Guba and Yvonna Lincoln (1998) have published a very useful chapter on 'competing paradigms in qualitative research' in The Handbook of Qualitative Research by Denzin and Lincoln. This chapter helps you to distinguish between modern (more positivist) and postmodern (constructionist) approaches.

More and less critical approaches

Next to modern and postmodern, another important distinction to make is between more and less critical approaches towards ethnographic research. The following references are very useful examples of some critical work on ethnography:

  • Alvesson, M. and S. Deetz (2001). Doing critical management research. London: Sage Publications.
  • Thomas, J. (1991). Doing Critical Ethnography. Newbury, CA., Sage.
  • Madison, D.S. (2001). Critical ethnography. Methods, ethics, and performance. London: Sage Publications
  • Carspecken, P.F. and Walford, G. (eds.)(2001). Critical ethnography and education (vol. 5). Oxford: Elsevier Science.