Your goal in this assignment is to interview an individual from a different culture, an informant, to produce a written ethnographic analysis. This is more than a retelling of the interview, for it also aims to cite and sort the values, attitudes and assumptions of the informant. Your role is to learn from this person, to be taught by him or her. Remember that informants are human beings with problems, concerns, and interests. Also keep in mind that your values may not coincide with the informant’s. You should choose someone that you know, but has different cultural views because of age, race, ethnicity, gender identity etc. Be careful to choose someone with whom you can follow-up, if necessary.
Preparing for the Interview
Successfully interviewing informants depends on a cluster of skills. These include: asking questions, listening instead of talking, taking a passive rather than an assertive role, expressing verbal interest in the other person, and showing interest by appropriate eye contact and other nonverbal means.
When preparing your interview, think about the kinds of ethnographic questions you will use. There should be a mix of descriptive and structural questions. Descriptive questions are broad and general, allowing people to describe their experiences, their daily activities, and objects and people in their lives. Structural questions are more specific and explore responses offered to descriptive questions. They allow you to find out how informants have organized their knowledge.
Conducting the Interview
It is best to think of the ethnographic interview as friendly conversation. A few minutes of easygoing talk interspersed here and there throughout the interview will help with developing and maintaining rapport. Here are a few other tips:
Expressing Interest. Use both verbal cues and nonverbal cues to let the informant know that you are interested in what he or she is saying, and want him/her to continue.
Expressing Ignorance. Even if you have already heard what the informant is telling you, try to make sure that you show interest and that you would like to know more.
Avoid repetition. Make sure that the questions you are asking are not redundant.
Taking turns. Even though you really want to know more about the person you are interviewing, try to make sure that you engage your informant in a two-way conversation. Turn taking helps keep the encounter balanced.
Repeat the informant’s answer to make sure that you understood well; do not try to make your own interpretation or paraphrase what has been said.
When conducting ethnographic research, there are ethical principles that will you should keep in mind. For example, be sure to safeguard your informant’s rights, interests and sensitivities. Communicate the aims of the interview as well as possible to the informant. Your informant should have the right to remain anonymous and speak “off record.” There should be no exploitation of informants for personal gain. Finally, make your final paper available to your informant.
Select one of the two options below: When carrying out the interview, consider bringing a tape recorder. Doing so will allow you to refer back to the interview, but be sure to get permission from the informant before taping the interview. You are not required to transcribe the interview. Informants should be encouraged to speak in their own language or dialect. If you cannot conduct the interview in the informant’s native language, be sure to work with someone who is comfortable communicating in English.
Option One: Documenting a Process
Select someone who will agree to be your informant in showing you how to do a particular activity, and in discussing with you the social and cultural implications of that activity. Do not choose a skill or craft that requires a great deal of abstract explanation. For example, do not ask a concert pianist to explain how to interpret a Chopin etude. It is best to begin to hone your data-gathering skills with an activity that is relatively accessible. Find out, for example, how to cook a particular dish, fashion a piece of jewelry, make an origami crane, etc. Be sure that your informant is one who does this frequently and knows something about it beyond following the directions in a how-to manual.
Your report should be in two parts. The first part should be a step-by-step description of how to do the particular activity, including a description of all materials and tools used. You may use a sequence of photos or sketches accompanied by explanatory captions. Be sure your details are specific and clear, as if you were describing the activity to someone who is completely unfamiliar with the activity. This exercise should sharpen your powers of observation and description and also train you to ask increasingly precise questions about your subject.
The second part should be a general discussion of what meaning or relevance the activity has for the informant. Find out how your informant came to be interested in this activity in the first place. You should attempt to find out the values and attitudes that are attached to this activity.
Life histories or personal narrative are a kind of description that offers an understanding of cultures different from our own. They reveal the details of a single person’s life and in the process show important parts of the larger culture of which that person is an active participant.
Conduct an interview of an informant. This is to be a nondirective interview, so that it is, as much as possible, the informant’s story in every way, emphasizing what he or she thinks is important to tell rather that what you think is important to ask about. Thus, as soon as you are sure the informant understands what is wanted in the interview, you can begin with such nondirective questions as, “Please tell me about your life as a —-,” or “What was it like to have x experience or be a part of y group?” It may be rewarding to ask informants who they consider to be the most important people and most important events in their lives. You want to allow them to be the expert who is giving you a window into a particular cultural context through the lens of their personal experiences.
If the narrative is collected in more than one session, it is a good idea to think out questions raised by the first session and to ask them of the informant in the next session, or in a brief visit for final questions. With informants who can manage to think through a chronology, it is wise to work out a year-by-year list of events as a check for the ordering of the items in the history.
When you write up the narrative, please remember ethical safeguards for your informant, including the possible necessity of giving the person a fictitious name, unless you have the full permission to use the real name and all of the details in the story.
It is imperative that social workers be able to self-reflect and recognize their own strengths and limitations. At the end of the ethnography include a self-reflection related to what you learned about the individual’s culture that you didn’t know before the interview. How could you implement this new knowledge into future practice?
UNTITLED ATTACHMENT 2-7 IS AN EXAMPLE OF COMPLETED ETHNOGRAPHY
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