An Ethnography By Any Other Name ...

Michael Agar


The debate over what counts as a "real" ethnography continues and even accelerates with growing interest in this alternative approach to the mainstream of social research. As part of a "Thematic School" sponsored by the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the author was asked to consider the question. This article is an informal written version of some of the points covered. It first of all summarizes some of the classic and recent debates, noting that both sides are actually examples of acceptable ethnography. Next a different version of the question is formulated to handle the fact that more than one ethnography is possible but not all are acceptable. In this version, parameters of an ethnography are identified that envision a space of possible ethnographic trajectories. The question then shifts to the characteristics of this space. Two are described in some detail. The first is a kind of logic, abductive, iterative and recursive. The second is a concern with questions of meaning and context to enable translation across points of view, though the questions raise problems of infinite expandability and integration in the lived experience of ethnographic practice. While problems of fuzzy set membership in the space remain at the end, this different version of the question of real ethnography offers an alternative way to ask and answer the question. The original series of lectures can be viewed online.
URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0604367


ethnography; abduction; translation; complexity theory; education

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Copyright (c) 2006 Michael Agar

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