Ethnography is a research approach used in anthropology which aims to explore a culture in its own terms. Unlike traditional qualitative research, in which the researcher typically has a fairly clear idea of what the research is aiming to reveal, in an ethnographic interview, the interviewee decides what is the important information to share. James Spradley, Professor of Anthropology at Macalester College, identified the four main types of ethnographic interview questions in his classic 1979 work, "The Ethnographic Interview."
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Grand Tour questions
Grand Tour questions ask interviewees to generalise, often by asking them to describe "typical" experiences. For example, a researcher studying a particular working environment might ask: "Could you describe a typical day on the job?" or, "Could you tell me how you usually do x, y, or z?" Grand Tour questions are good introductory questions to ask at the start of the interview, as part of the process of allowing the interviewee to reveal the most important issues.
Details through questions
Asking follow-up questions about an act or event is important to clarify meaning. For example, if an interviewee in a work-related ethnographic interview said, "X meetings can be awkward", the research might ask, "Can you give me an example of awkwardness at X meeting?" What one person views as awkward may be very different from another person's perception.
In these questions, the researcher asks the interviewee to select and describe particular experiences that they have had in a particular cultural setting. For example, again in the workplace research, an interviewee might be asked. "Can you tell me about a difficult experience that you have had in this company?" This type of question tends to prompt the interviewee to reveal unusual experiences rather than normal ways of working.
Language is often the key to understanding culture. Many environments develop their own terminologies or ways of speaking that can be very revealing. An interviewer might ask an interviewee to use the language of his environment, for example, by asking: "How would your co-worker explain x to you?"; "How would you say that to your supervisor?" or, "The committee that meets on a Monday -- what do you call it?"
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