Blog Post

Ethnography, With A Twist



  • a qualitative research strategy

  • relies primarily on participant observation

    • glorified people-watching
  • the study and interpretation of cultural behavior



Ethnography in Creative Nonfiction Writing

Some Ideas...

  • maybe we stumble upon some information about Wicca, so we decide to look up if there's a Wicca community in our city... this leads us to attend a meeting and befriend some Wiccan practitioners.

  • maybe we meet a nice grandpa at a grocery store and decide we want to research and observe the culture of retirement homes 

  • maybe we want to see what it would be like to survive off minimum wage, so we take a job at Wal-Mart and see what happens (Nickel and Dimed  by Barbara Ehrenreich)

  • maybe we want to go to the airport and see how many people read a book versus how many people distract themselves with an electronic device...

    • how old are these people? what are they wearing? what are they reading? on their smart phones or computers or tablets or what?


Some Comments...

  • We don't need to travel to an exotic land to observe a culture

  • There are subcultures of society everywhere

  • Observation is an art.

  • Pay close attention to all parts of the environment

  • Be ethical. CONSENT IS usually NECESSARY




Devil's Bait by Leslie Jamison

"This gathering is something like an AA meeting or a Quaker service: between speakers, people occasionally just walk up to the podium and start sharing. Or else they do it in their chairs, hunched over to get a better look at each other's limbs. They swap cell phone photos. I hear a man tell a woman: 'I live in a bare apartment near wprk; don't have much else.' I hear her reply: 'But you still work?'"


"I discover that the people who can't help whispering during lectures are the ones I want to talk to; that the coffee station is useful because it's a good place to meet people, and becaue drinking coffee means I'll have to keep going to the bathroom, which is an even better place to meet people. The people I meet don't look disfigured at first glance. But up close, they reveal all kinds of scars and bumps and scabs. They are covered in records--fossils or ruins--of the open, oozing things that once were."


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