Ethnography

Carl DiSalvo
Carl DiSalvo
SLS FEWS Fellow
Associate Professor, School of Literature, Media and Communication Co-Director, SLS Fellows Programs

How would you define this big idea?

Ethnography is the practice of structured observation and interpretation of culture and society. This usually occurs through two stages: fieldwork and writing. The roots of ethnography are in anthropology, though as a method ethnography is now used across multiple social science as well as being common in management and technology studies, and as a technique used in product development. Ethnography is usually written, though there are strong traditions of the use of media in ethnography. There is also a strong tradition of “socially engaged” ethnographic work.

How is this big idea applied to sustainable communities?

The value of design thinking to sustainable communities is that it provides a method for understanding cultures and social interactions. This can be valuable research on its own, for instance providing interpretations of how a given community uses mobile phones or their attitudes towards food. It can also inform design work. Finally, drawing on existing ethnographic work can help communicate the characteristics of a given issue, such as gender norms in rural southern communities or systems of power and influence in environmental policy.

Learn more:

Article by anthropologist Kim Fortun on practicing ethnography with a social-environmentla justice perspective

Engage Ethnography website

Discover Anthropology

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