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The Enthnographic Interview

Tool Objectives: 
  1. To become familiar with the fundamental principles of ethnographic inquiry and to identify basic elements in the ethnographic interview.
  2. To practice skills related to developing rapport with an informant and selecting appropriate questions.
  3. To reflect upon the role of ethnographic writing in the cultural learning process.
Tool Description: 

Education abroad is about helping students change structures, learn new ways of thinking, and become more complex, interculturally competent individuals. Ethnographic inquiry offers the field of education abroad a learning paradigm through which to engage students in serious cultural and intercultural learning. Because ethnography is at its most basic a culture learning approach, it can be integrated within all forms of education abroad programming, regardless of program type, location or duration.

It is not an assumption of this tool that students can and should become apprentice ethnographers engaged in carrying out fieldwork. Rather, ethnography at its most fundamental level of inquiry can be reframed to guide students toward becoming autonomous cultural learners and explorers, who can describe, understand, analyze, appreciate, and enjoy intercultural differences.

Tool Procedures: 
  1. Introduction. Provide students with a brief introduction of ethnography as a tradition in qualitative research. Define and discuss the role of informants. Make a list of potential informants that students can realistically interview while abroad.
  1. Interview Practice. In groups of three, have students practice conducting ethnographic interviewing (interviewer, interviewee, observer). Debrief the practice session by asking students what questions worked, what didn’t work and why. Assist students with using descriptive and structural questions. Advise students on the ethical principles involved in conducting qualitative research.
  1. Assignment. The assignment has been designed to allow students to choose among three options. Discuss the options, while remaining open to other suggestions from students. If students are not fluent in the language or dialect of the host country, allow them to conduct their interviews in English. Facilitate a discussion about the importance of language in ethnographic research, noting the limitations language barriers pose on data collection.
  1. In-country Support.  Students will need support and guidance throughout the international travel component. If time allows, invite students to meet with you privately before conducting their interviews to discuss their preparations, choice of informant and topic. Students may also need assistance upon return with organizing and presenting their findings.
  1. Optional.  If class time allows upon return, have each student make a brief presentation of their interview findings and what they’ve learned from this process.
Tool Evaluation: 

This assignment could be worth up to 30% of the course grade. Students should be assessed on their success with conducting the ethnographic interview and on the organization, presentation and depth of their written analyses. There should be no minimum page length for the assignment.

Tool Time Requirement: 

One class session (pre-departure)

Tool Author(s): 

Adapted by A. Ogden & S. Roulon, 2009 from Field Projects in Anthropology: A Student Handbook, 1992.

Tool Handouts [.doc or .docx]: 

Site copyright 2012, University of Kentucky, Education Abroad.
Toolkit Authors: Duarte Morais, Ph.D., Anthony C. Ogden, Ph.D., & Christine Buzinde, Ph.D.
More information about the toolkit authors.

Danland theme modification by Vaughan A. Fielder.