Case Study vs. Ethnography

What's the difference.

Case study and ethnography are both research methods used in social sciences to gain a deeper understanding of a particular phenomenon or group of people. However, they differ in their approach and focus. A case study typically involves an in-depth examination of a single individual, group, or event, aiming to provide a detailed analysis of a specific situation. On the other hand, ethnography involves immersing oneself in a particular culture or community over an extended period, observing and interacting with its members to understand their beliefs, behaviors, and social dynamics. While case studies provide detailed insights into specific cases, ethnography offers a broader understanding of the cultural context and social interactions within a community.

Further Detail

Introduction.

Case study and ethnography are two research methods commonly used in social sciences and other fields to gain a deeper understanding of a particular phenomenon or group of people. While both methods aim to provide rich and detailed insights, they differ in their approach, scope, and data collection techniques. In this article, we will explore the attributes of case study and ethnography, highlighting their similarities and differences.

Definition and Purpose

Case study is a research method that involves an in-depth examination of a specific individual, group, or event. It aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of a particular case, often focusing on a unique or rare occurrence. On the other hand, ethnography is a qualitative research method that involves immersing the researcher in the natural environment of a group or community to observe and understand their culture, behaviors, and social interactions.

Scope and Generalizability

One key difference between case study and ethnography lies in their scope and generalizability. Case studies are typically more focused and specific, aiming to provide detailed insights into a particular case or situation. The findings of a case study may not be easily generalized to a larger population due to the uniqueness of the case being studied.

On the other hand, ethnography aims to capture the broader cultural and social dynamics of a group or community. By immersing themselves in the natural setting, ethnographers can observe and document the behaviors, beliefs, and practices of the group. Ethnographic research often seeks to uncover patterns and themes that may be applicable to similar groups or communities, allowing for a higher level of generalizability.

Data Collection

Another important aspect to consider when comparing case study and ethnography is their data collection techniques. In case studies, researchers often rely on multiple sources of data, including interviews, surveys, observations, and document analysis. These various data sources help provide a comprehensive understanding of the case being studied.

On the other hand, ethnography primarily relies on participant observation, where the researcher actively engages with the group being studied, often for an extended period. This immersive approach allows the researcher to gain firsthand experience and insights into the culture, norms, and practices of the group. Ethnographers may also conduct interviews and collect artifacts or documents to supplement their observations.

Time and Resources

Case studies and ethnography also differ in terms of the time and resources required to conduct the research. Case studies are often more time-efficient, as they focus on a specific case or event. Researchers can collect data relatively quickly and analyze it in a shorter timeframe. However, the depth of analysis and the level of detail may vary depending on the complexity of the case.

On the other hand, ethnography is a time-consuming process that requires a significant investment of time and resources. Researchers need to spend an extended period in the field, building rapport with the community, and gaining their trust. The immersive nature of ethnography allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the group, but it also demands a longer-term commitment from the researcher.

Analysis and Interpretation

Both case study and ethnography involve a detailed analysis and interpretation of the collected data. In case studies, researchers often employ various analytical frameworks or theories to make sense of the data and draw conclusions. The analysis may involve identifying patterns, themes, or causal relationships within the case being studied.

Similarly, ethnographic research involves a rigorous analysis of the collected data. Ethnographers often engage in a process called coding, where they categorize and organize the observations, interviews, and other data sources. This coding process helps identify recurring themes, cultural practices, and social dynamics within the group. Ethnographers may also use theoretical frameworks to interpret their findings and provide a deeper understanding of the observed phenomena.

Applications

Both case study and ethnography have diverse applications across various disciplines. Case studies are commonly used in psychology, business, medicine, and law to examine individual cases, diagnose specific conditions, or understand unique situations. They provide valuable insights into complex phenomena that cannot be easily replicated or studied through other research methods.

On the other hand, ethnography finds its applications in anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, and other social sciences. Ethnographic research allows for a holistic understanding of different cultures, communities, and social groups. It helps uncover the underlying meanings, values, and practices that shape the lives of individuals within a specific cultural context.

In conclusion, case study and ethnography are two distinct research methods that offer valuable insights into specific cases or cultural contexts. While case studies provide a detailed analysis of a particular case, ethnography allows for a broader understanding of social and cultural dynamics. Both methods have their strengths and limitations, and the choice between them depends on the research objectives, scope, and available resources. By employing these research methods appropriately, researchers can gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of human behavior, culture, and society.

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Difference Between Case Study and Ethnography

Main difference – case study vs ethnography.

Case studies and ethnographies are two popular detailed, qualitative studies used in the field of social science . Although there are certain similarities between these two methods such as their holistic nature, and the extended time period, there are also some differences between the two. The main difference between case study and ethnography is their focus; ethnography aims to explore cultural phenomenon whereas case studies aim to describe the nature of phenomena through a detailed investigation of individual cases.

Difference Between Case Study and Ethnography - Comparison Summary

What is a Case Study

A case study is a detailed investigation of a single event, situation or an individual in order to explore and unearth complex issues. Yin (1984) defines case study as “an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used.” Although case studies are always associated with qualitative research, they can also be quantitative in nature. They are often used to explore community-based issued such as poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, prostitution, and drug addiction.

A successful case study is context-sensitive, holistic, systematic, layered and comprehensive. The process of a case study involves,

  • Identifying and defining the research questions
  • Selecting the cases and deciding techniques for data collection and analysis
  • Collecting data in the field
  • Evaluating and analysing the data
  • Preparing the report

Data collection methods in a case study may involve interviews, observations, questionnaires, checklists, analysis of recorded data and opinionnaires. Case studies can also be divided into different categories. Exploratory, descriptive and explanatory case studies are three such categories.

Case studies are preferred by many researchers in the field of social sciences since they offer detailed and in-depth information about a particular phenomenon. However, it is difficult to use the data obtained from a case study to form generalisation since it only focuses on a single event or phenomenon.

Main Difference - Case Study vs Ethnography

Figure 1: Questionnaires are one method of data collection in a case study.

What is an Ethnography

Ethnography is a detailed and in-depth study of everyday life and practice. In other words, it is the systematic study of people and cultures. A researcher who is engaged in ethnography is known as an ethnographer . Ethnographers explore and study culture from an insider’s point of view (emic perspective).

Ethnography traditionally involved focusing on a bounded and a definable race, ethnicity or group of people; for example, study of a particular African tribe. However, modern ethnography also focus on different aspects of the contemporary social life.

Ethnographic research mainly involves field observations, i.e., observations of behaviour in a natural setting. The researchers have to spend a considerable amount of time inside a community in order to make such observations. Information about particular socio-cultural phenomena in a community is typically obtained from the members of that particular community. Participant observation and interviews are two of the main data collection methods in this type of studies. Ethnographic studies take a longer period of time than other types of research since it takes long-term involvement and observation to understand the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours of a community.

Difference Between Case Study and Ethnography

Figure 2: Observation and participant interviews are main data collection methods in ethnography.

Definition 

Case Study: A case study is a detailed investigation of a single event, situation or an individual in order to explore and unearth complex issues.

Ethnography: An ethnography is the detailed and systematic study of people and cultures.

Case Study: Case studies focus on a single event, incident or individual.

Ethnography: Ethnography observes cultural phenomenon.

Case study: Case study intends to uncover the tacit knowledge of culture participants.

Ethnography: Ethnography aims to describe the nature of phenomena through detailed investigations of individual cases.

Data Collection Methods

Case Study: Case studies may use interviews, observations, questionnaires, checklists, analysis of recorded data and opinionnaires.

Ethnography: Ethnographic studies use participant observations and interviews.

Special Requirements

Case Study: The researcher does not have to live in a particular community.

Ethnography: The researcher has to spend a considerable amount time inside that particular community.

Conclusion 

Case study and ethnography may have some similarities; however, there is a considerable difference between case study and ethnography as explained above. The main difference between case study and ethnography lies in their intent and focus; case studies intend to uncover the tacit knowledge of culture participants whereas ethnographic studies intend to describe the nature of phenomena through detailed investigations of individual cases. There are also differences between them in terms of data collection and analyis. 

  • Cohen, Arie. “Ethnography and case study: a comparative analysis.”  Academic Exchange Quarterly  7.3 (2003): 283-288.
  • Yin, Robert. “Case study research. Beverly Hills.” (1984).

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ethnography case study differences

Difference between case study & ethnography

Maria Nguyen

Introduction

In the social sciences, case study and ethnography are two popular research methodologies. While there are similarities between the two, there are also differences in data collection and the overall purpose of the study. This article aims to clarify these differences.

A case study is an in-depth study of a particular instance, event, individual, or group. It can be explanatory or descriptive in nature, but its focus is on understanding the why’s and implications of the subject of study. Case studies draw conclusions based on prior research and systematic analysis of data.

Ethnography

Ethnography is the art and science of describing a group or culture. It is an investigative approach that requires the ethnographer to behave like a neutral observer, without imposing personal viewpoints or making subjective judgments. Participant observation is often used as a method of data collection in ethnography, where the ethnographer becomes a part of the group being studied and records observations without analysis.

Differences

– Ethnography focuses on describing a group or culture, while a case study focuses on a particular instance, event, individual, or group. – Ethnography requires participant observation as a data collection method, while it is not necessary for a case study. – A case study is more outward looking, focusing on the why’s and implications, whereas ethnography is more inward looking. – Ethnography takes a longer time to conduct than a case study.

In summary, a case study is an in-depth analysis of a specific subject, while ethnography is an in-depth study of a group or culture. The methods of data collection and the perspectives of analysis differ between the two methodologies.

Key Takeaways

1. The difference between a case study and ethnography is that ethnography is a study of a culture or ethnic group, while a case study investigates a particular instance, event, or individual. 2. Ethnography requires participant observation as a data collection method, while it is not necessary in a case study. 3. A case study is more outward-looking, focusing on the why’s and implications of an event, while ethnography is more inward-looking and focused on describing a group or culture.

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How is ethnography conducted, can a case study be quantitative, what is a case study, how long does a case study take, what is the main purpose of ethnography, what makes ethnography unique in research, what skills are needed for ethnography, can case studies be used for hypothesis testing, are case studies suitable for all fields of study, what is a limitation of a case study, can ethnography be done remotely, how does a case study differ from a survey, what role does language play in ethnography, what ethical considerations are involved in ethnography, can multiple cases be included in a case study, how does ethnography benefit sociology, how does technology impact ethnography, is ethnography considered a scientific method, what types of subjects are suitable for case studies.

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Research Guides

Ethnographic Case Studies

Jeannette Armstrong; Laura Boyle; Lindsay Herron; Brandon Locke; and Leslie Smith

Description

This research guide discusses ethnographic case study. While there is much debate over what, precisely, delimits a case study , the general consensus seems to be that ethnographic case studies differ from other types of case studies primarily in their focus, methodology, and duration. In essence, ethnographic case studies are case studies “employing ethnographic methods and focused on building arguments about cultural, group, or community formation or examining other sociocultural phenomena” (Schwandt & Gates, 2018, p. 344), typically with a long duration, per the demands of ethnographic work. In essence, ethnographic case studies are case studies “employing ethnographic methods and focused on building arguments about cultural, group, or community formation or examining other sociocultural phenomena” (Schwandt & Gates, 2018, p. 344), typically with a long duration, per the demands of ethnographic work. Indeed, in its very situatedness, ethnography has a “case study character” and is “intimately related” to case studies (Ó Rian, 2009, p. 291); though there is currently a move to extract ethnographic work from overly situated contexts and use extended case methods, “[e]thnographic research has long been synonymous with case studies, typically conceived of as grounded in the local and situated in specific, well-defined and self-contained social contexts” (Ó Rian, 2009, p. 290). Because ethnography, in practice, is often a kind of case study, it’s useful to consider ethnography and case studies each in their own right for a fuller picture of what ethnographic case study entails.

Ethnographic research is one approach under the larger umbrella of qualitative research. Methodologically, it is, “a theoretical, ethical, political, and at times moral orientation to research, which guides the decisions one makes, including choices about research methods” (Harrison, 2014, p. 225), that is at its crux “based upon sharing the time and space of those who one is studying” (Ó Rian, 2009, p. 291)–a situated, nuanced exploration seeking a thick description and drawing on methods such as observation and field notes. According to …an ethnography focuses on an entire culture-sharing group and attempts to develop a complex, complete description of the culture of the group. Creswell and Poth (2018), an ethnography focuses on an entire culture-sharing group and attempts to develop a complex, complete description of the culture of the group. In doing so, ethnographers look for patterns of behavior such as rituals or social behaviors, as well as how their ideas and beliefs are expressed through language, material activities, and actions (Creswell & Poth, 2018). Yin (2016)  suggests that ethnographies seek “to promote embedded research that fuses close-up observation, rigorous theory, and social critique. [Ethnographies foster] work that pays equal attention to the minutiae of experience, the cultural texture of social relations, and to the remote structural forces and power vectors that bear on them” (p. 69).

Case study research, meanwhile, is characterized as an approach “that facilitates exploration of a phenomenon within its context using a variety of data sources” (Baxter & Jack, 2008, p. 544). The aim of case studies is precise description of reconstruction of cases (Flick, 2015). The philosophical background is a qualitative, constructivist paradigm based on the claim that reality is socially constructed and can best be understood by exploring the tacit, i.e., experience-based, knowledge of individuals. There is some debate about how to define a The philosophical background is a qualitative, constructivist paradigm based on the claim that reality is socially constructed and can best be understood by exploring the tacit, i.e., experience-based, knowledge of individuals. “case” (e.g., Ó Rian, 2009), however. As Schwandt and Gates (2018) write, “[A] case is an instance, incident, or unit of something and can be anything–a person, an organization, an event, a decision, an action, a location”; it can be at the micro, meso, or macro level; it can be an empirical unit or a theoretical construct, specific or general; and in fact, “what the research or case object is a case of may not be known until most of the empirical research is completed” (p. 341). The two authors conclude that given the multifarious interpretations of what case study is, “[b]eyond positing that case study methodology has something to do with ‘in-depth’ investigation of a phenomenon . . . , it is a fool’s errand to pursue what is (or should be) truly called ‘case study’” (p. 343, 344).

Baxter, P., & Jack, S. (2008). Qualitative case study methodology: Study design and implementation for novice researchers. The Qualitative Report, 13 (4), 544-559.

Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N. (2018). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among five approaches (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

Flick, U. (2015). Introducing research methodology . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

Rian, S. (2009). Extending the ethnographic case study. In D. Byrne & C. C. Ragin (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of case-based methods (pp. 289–306). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Schwandt, T. A., & Gates, E. F. (2018). Case study methodology. In N. K. Dezin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of qualitative research (5th ed.; pp. 341-358). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Yin, R. K. (2016). Qualitative research from start to finish (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Key Research Books and Articles on Ethnographic Case Study Methodology

Fusch, G. E., & Ness, L. R. (2017). How to conduct a mini-ethnographic case study: A guide for novice researchers. The Qualitative Report , 22 (3), 923-941.  Retrieved from https://nsuworks.nova.edu/tqr/vol22/iss3/16

In this how-to article, the authors present an argument for the use of a blended research design, namely the Ethnographic Case Study, for student researchers. To establish their point of view, the authors reiterate recognized research protocols, such as choosing a design that suits the research question to ensure data saturation. Additionally, they remind their reader that one must also consider the feasibility of the project in terms of time, energy, and financial constraints.

Before outlining the benefits and components of the Ethnographic Case Study approach, the authors provide detailed narratives of ethnographic, mini-ethnographic (sometimes referred to as a focused ethnography ), and case study research designs to orient the reader. Next, we are introduced to the term mini-ethnographic case-study design, which is defined as a blended design that is bound in time and space and uses qualitative ethnographic and case study collection methods. The benefits of such an approach permit simultaneous generation of theory and the study of that theory in practice, as it allows for the exploration of causality.

Ethnographic Case Study research shares many characteristics with its parent approaches.  For example, subjectivity and bias are present and must be addressed. Next, data triangulation is necessary to ensure the collected qualitative data and subsequent findings are valid and reliable. Data collection methods include direct observation, fieldwork, reflective journaling, informal or unstructured interviews, and focus groups. Finally, the authors discuss three limitations to the ethnographic case study. First, this design requires the researcher to be embedded, yet the duration of time may not be for as long when compared to full-scale ethnographic studies.  Second, since there are fewer participants, there should be a larger focus on rich data as opposed to thick data, or said differently, quality is valued over quantity. Third, the researcher must be aware that the end-goal is not transferability, but rather the objective is to gain a greater understanding of the culture of a particular group that is bound by space and time.

Gregory, E. & Ruby, M. (2010) The ‘insider/outsider’ dilemma of ethnography: Working with young children and their families in cross-cultural contexts. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 9 (2), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1177/1476718X10387899

This article focuses on the dilemma of insider and outsider roles in ethnographic work. It challenges the notion that a researcher can be both an insider and an outsider at the same time. There is no insider/outsider status; it is one or the other–not both.

It is easy to make assumptions about one’s status as an insider. It is not uncommon for a researcher to assume that because one is working amongst his/her “own” people sharing a similar background, culture, or faith that she/he is an insider. Likewise, a researcher may assume that it will be easy to build rapport with a community with which he/she has commonalities; however, it is important to keep in mind that the person may be an insider but the researcher may not have this same status. When the person enters into the protective space of family or community as a researcher, it is similar to being an outsider. Being a researcher makes one different, regardless of the commonalities that are shared. It is not the researcher’s presumed status of “insider” or “outsider” that makes the difference; rather, researcher status is determined by the participants or community that is being studied. It is wise for researchers to understand that they are distinctively one of “them” as opposed to one of “us”. This is not to say that researchers cannot become an “insider” to some degree. But to assume insider status, regardless of the rationale, is wrong. Assuming common beliefs across cultures or insider status can lead to difficulties that could impact the scope or nature of the study.

In conclusion, regardless of the ethnographic design (e.g., realist ethnography, ethnographic case study, critical ethnography), it is important for the researcher to approach the study as an “outsider”. Although the outsider status may change over time, it essential to understand that when one enters a community as a researcher or becomes a researcher within a community, insider status must be earned and awarded according to the participants in the community.

Ó Rian, S. (2009). Extending the ethnographic case study. In D. Byrne & C. C. Ragin (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of case-based methods (pp. 289–306). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

In this chapter, Ó Rian valorizes the problems and potential hiding within the vagaries of ethnographic “case” boundaries, arguing that “whereas the fluid and multi-faceted aspects of the ethnographic case pose dilemmas for ethnographers, they can also become resources for ethnographers in exploring theoretical and empirical questions” (p. 292). Indeed, he views the idea of firm case boundaries as a weakness, as “definitions of the case will rule in and out certain social processes,” and suggests ethnography’s flexibility can deal with this problem well because it permits researchers to “question the boundaries of the case as the study proceeds,” leading to a “de- and re-construction of the case that . . . places ethnography at the centre of a resurgent contextualist paradigm of social inquiry . . . that is increasingly self-consciously exploring its own theoretical and methodological foundations” (p. 304). Most of the chapter delves into these possibilities for exploration, offering an insightful (if occasionally difficult to follow) perspective on how they have been proceeding.

The chapter offers considerations that might be particularly helpful to researchers undertaking ethnographic case studies who are struggling to connect their cases, so firmly rooted in a particular context and their own personal experiences and observations, to a bigger picture. Ó Rian elucidates the reflexive strategies various ethnographers have adopted as they’ve sought “[t]o achieve a link between context-specific data and meso- or macro-level generalizations,” categorizing these strategies into three “interlocking extensions of case study research” (p. 292): personal extensions (related to “the shaping of the boundaries of the case by the ethnographer’s location within the field and . . . how ethnographers can convey their personalized experiences and tacit learning to readers” [p. 292]), theoretical extensions (which bridge the gap between the situated worlds being explored and “the larger structures and processes that produced and shaped them” [p. 292]), and empirical extensions (“creative efforts to experiment with the empirical boundaries of the ethnographic case” [p. 292] by bringing in, for example, historical context, social networks, etc.). The crux of his argument is that ethnographic researchers have a prime opportunity to push against the boundaries of their context and “extend their cases across space, time and institutional structures and practices” so that the ethnographer is “multiply, if perhaps a bit uncomfortably, situated” (p. 304), and also to include an “emphasis on the ongoing process of theoretical sampling within the process of the ethnographic study, with close attention to be paid to the paths chosen and rejected, and the reasons for these decisions” (p. 304). These kinds of extensions offer an opportunity for theories to “be refined or reconstructed” as the researcher attempts to locate their personal experience within a broader framework, allowing “[t]he case study . . . to challenge and reconstruct the preferred theory” while also connecting the case to a larger body of work, particularly because theory “carries the accumulated knowledge of previous studies” (p. 296).

Ó Rian’s in-depth descriptions of how other researchers have varyingly handled these personal, theoretical, and empirical extensions might be a bit overwhelming to novice researchers but overall can offer a way to “locate their cases within broader social processes and not solely within their own personal trajectories” (p. 294)–while also helping to situate their reflections and extensions within a larger body of literature replete with researchers struggling with similar questions and concerns.

This chapter offers an  in-depth, generally accessible (but occasionally overwhelming) overview of case studies of all sorts and integrates an extensive review of relevant literature. The authors provide an informed perspective on various considerations and debates in the case study field (e.g., varying definitions of what a “case” is construed to be; interpretive vs. critical realist orientations; the relative benefits of and techniques involved in different types of approaches), helping novice researchers locate and better describe their own approach within the context of the field. The information is quite detailed and delves into a wide variety of case study types, suggesting this chapter might best be first skimmed as an initial introduction, followed by more careful readings of relevant sections and perusal of the key texts cited in the chapter. The breadth of this chapter makes it a helpful resource for anyone interested in case-study methodology.

The authors do not specifically explore ethnographic case studies as a separate type of case study. They do, however, briefly touch on this idea, locating ethnography within the interpretive orientation (comprising constructivist approaches offering “phenomenological attention to lived experience” [p. 344]). The authors also cite researchers who distinguish it due to its “[employing] ethnographic methods and focus on building arguments about cultural, group, or community formation or examining other sociocultural phenomena” (p. 344). Ethnographic case study is placed in contrast to case studies that use non-ethnographic methods (e.g., studies “relying perhaps on survey data and document analysis”) or that “are focused on ‘writing culture’” (p. 344).

Two aspects of this chapter are particularly useful for novice researchers. First, it is worth highlighting the authors’ discussion of varying definitions of what a “case” is, as it can provide an interesting reconceptualization of the purpose of the research and the reason for conducting it. The second noteworthy aspect is the authors’ detailed descriptions of the four main case study uses/designs ( descriptive, hypothesis generation or theory development, hypothesis and theory testing , and contributing to normative theory ), which the authors beautifully align with the respective purposes and methods of each type while also offering insight into relevant conversations in the field.

Further Readings

Moss, P. A., & Haertel, E. H. (2016). Engaging methodological pluralism. In D. H. Gitomer & C. A. Bell (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Teaching (pp. 127–247). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

Simons, H. (2014). Case study research: In-depth understanding in context. In P. Leavy (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of qualitative research (pp. 455–470). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Recent Dissertations Using Ethnographic Case Study Methodology

Cozzolino, M. (2014). Global education, accountability, and 21st century skills: A case of curriculum innovation . Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (Order Number 3648007)

This dissertation is self-described as an ethnographic case study of a small, public, suburban high school in Pennsylvania. In this study, the researcher investigates the school’s process of integrating global education into its curriculum by implementing a school-wide initiative (Global Studies Initiative or GSI) as well as a program of study (Global Studies Credential or GSC). Cozzolino asserts that her framework has been shaped by both social constructivism and critical/Freirean pedagogy. From the constructivist view, she views knowledge as constructed through social interaction, and thus she sought to understand the world in which the research participants work, learn, and experience large parts of their lives. It is here that she situates the first three research questions that entail looking at the the GSI and the GSC in terms of their features, rationales, and implementations. The fourth question involves understanding the students’ views and perceptions of the GSC and here the author takes up a critical and Freirean pedagogy to honor and hear the voices of the students themselves.

The study design is therefore an embedded single-case study in that it is bound by the place (Olympus High School) and by its population. Furthermore, it is also a case within a case, as it seeks to understand the students’ perspectives of the global programming. The case study is ethnographically rooted through the multiple ethnographic data sources such as participant-observations and a prolonged engagement at the research site. Cozzolino embedded herself in the research site over a five-year period and became an active and invested member of the school community, thereby establishing a sound rationale for an ethnographic case-study approach.

The author concludes that there were some competing priorities about the overall initiative from stakeholders inside and outside the school district. This resulted in a less than ideal implementation of the program of study across the curriculum. Nonetheless, the students who were enrolled in these courses reported it to be a worthwhile experience. While Cozzolino presents specific recommendations for the improvements at Olympus High, she also offers implications for several other groups. First, she provides advice for implementation to other educational institutions that aim to integrate a global focus into their curriculum. Next, she gives recommendations for local, state, and national policy changes. Finally, she gives suggestions for engaging all parties in fruitful discourse to achieve their ultimate goal of implementing a meaningful and valuable global education curriculum.

Hamman, L. (2018). Reframing the language separation debate: Language, identity, and  ideology in two-way immersion . Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (Order Number 2089463322)

This study explored the issues of surrounding language separation in two-way immersion (TWI) classrooms. The author looked at how classroom language practices and teacher ideologies influenced the student experience and how the students’ understanding of what it means to be bilingual is influenced in a classroom that purports to be equitable in terms of language use.

The study is theoretically grounded in sociocultural, critical, and postcultural theories and adapted Lemke’s ecosocial system to conceptualize TWI classroom. Hamman also drew upon translanguaging theory and dynamic bilingualism to provide a framework for a more modern and nuanced perspective of bilingualism, bilingual learning, and bilingual students.

The author combined a single-case study approach with ethnographic methods to “engage in close analysis of classroom language use and the discursive negotiation of identities and ideologies, while situating these analyses within a rich understanding of the sociolinguistic context of this TWI classroom” (p. 78-79). She employed various ethnographic methods such as taking fieldnotes, conducting participant observations, interviewing, and memoing. The study is “bound” in that it takes place in one 2nd-grade classroom with one teacher and 18 students over the course of one year.

Hamman concludes that student perspectives on language separation should be considered, since this forced separation of language influenced how they thought of their developing bilingualism and identity as bilinguals. Furthermore, the study envisages a linguistic “middle ground” to strict separation that allows for appropriate and meaningful spaces for linguistic negotiation. Finally, this dissertation asserts that the strict separation of languages codifies a monoglossic ideology mindset and limits learners’ possibilities for learning and making connections across languages.

Kim, S. (2015). Korean migrant youth identity work in the transnational social field: A link between identity, transnationalism, and new media literacy . Retrieved from University of Missouri-St. Louis Institutional Repository Library. https://irl.umsl.edu/dissertation/158/

This doctoral dissertation takes an ethnographic case study approach to explore the identity formation of transnational Korean youth. The researcher, herself a Korean immigrant to the U.S. navigating complex identity processes, focuses on these research questions: “1) what are the contexts in which migrant youth negotiate their identities? 2) how do youth understand and negotiate their sense of belonging? 3) how do youth’s [sic] cultural and literacy practices inform and shape their identities? 3i) how do youth make use of transnational new media for their identity work? 3ii) how do literacy practices potentially shape their identities?” (p. 7).

Drawing on Leander and McKim (2013), the author conceptualizes her study as a “connective ethnography” (p. 36) encompassing multiple spaces, both digital and physical, in which “space” comprises a variety of relationships, instead of a more traditional ethnography bounded by physical space. The “case study” aspect, meanwhile, refers to the four specific participants in which she chose to focus. She chose Korean immigrants in St. Louis, in general, due to their mobility between the U.S. and Korea, their high use of digital communication and information technology, and their limited access to the cultural resources of Korea in a Midwestern city. From an initial 32 possible participants purposively selected, the researcher chose four focal participants based on their Korean ethnicity, biliteracy in Korean and English, age (between 11 and 19 years old), residence in the U.S. (for at least 2 years), and their use of digital communication technologies. Data sources included an initial screening survey, an identity map each participant created, informal recorded conversations, recorded interviews in either English or Korean, field notes from the researcher’s interactions with the youth in various settings (home, school, community centers), and “literacy documents” (evidence of literacy practices from participants’ school and home, emails to the researcher, or activities in digital spaces). She used social semiotic multimodal discourse analysis and what she describes as “grounded theory thematic analysis” to analyze the data.

This is a reflective, thoughtful, and interesting dissertation. The author carefully notes the relationship between the data sources and her research questions, specifically addresses steps she took to ensure the validity of the data (e.g., triangulation via multiple data sources and theoretical frameworks, member checks, and feedback from her professors and other researchers), and discloses her own positionalities and biases. Her discussion includes not only a clear thematic exploration of her findings but also offers specific practical suggestions for how her findings can be applied and extended in the classroom.

Internet Resources

Abalos-Gerard Gonzalez , L. (2011). Ethnographic research . Retrieved from https://www.slideshare.net/lanceabalos/ethnographic-research-2?from_action=save

Created by Lance Gerard G. Abalos, teacher at the Department of Education-Philippines, this SlideShare, Ethnographic Research , explains that, regardless of specific design, ethnographic research should be undertaken “without any priori hypothesis to avoid predetermining what is observed or that information is elicited from informants . . .hypotheses evolve out of the fieldwork itself” (slide 4). It is also suggested that researchers refer to individuals from whom information is gathered as ‘informants’ is preferred over the term ‘participants’ (slide 4).

According to Abalos, “It is not the data collection techniques that determine whether the study is ethnographic, but rather the ‘socio-cultural interpretation’ that sets it apart from other forms of qualitative inquiry” (slide 6). A social situation always has three components: a place, actors, and activities (slide 8) and it is the socio-cultural interpretation of the interactions of these three that is the focus of the ethnographic research.

Ethnographic questions should guide what the researcher sees, hears, and collects as data (slide 9). When writing the ethnography, it is essential to ‘bring the culture or group to life’ through the words and descriptions used to describe the place, actors, and activities.

Abalos describes three types of ethnographic designs:

  • Realist Ethnographies : an objective account of the situation, written dispassionately from third-person point of view, reporting objectively on information learned from informants, containing closely edited quotations (slide 11-12).
  • Ethnographic Case Studies : researchers focus on a program, event, or activity involving individuals rather than a group, looking for shared patterns that develop as a group as a result of the program, event, or activity (slide 13).
  • Critical Ethnographies: incorporating a ‘critical’ approach that includes an advocacy perspective, researchers are interested in advocating against inequality and domination (slide 14).

As ethnographic data is analyzed, in any design (e.g., realist, case study, critical), there is a shift away from reporting the facts to making an interpretation of people and activities, determining how things work, and identifying the essential features in themes of the cultural setting (slide 22). “The ethnographer must present the description, themes, and interpretation within the context or setting of the culture-sharing group (slide 23).

Brehm, W. (2016, July 21). FreshEd #13 – Jane Kenway . Retrieved from http://www.freshedpodcast.com/tag/ethnography/ (EDXSymposium: New Frontiers in Comparative Education).

Jane Kenway is with the Australian Research Council and is an emeritus professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. In this podcast, she explains “traditional’ forms of ethnography and multi-sited global ethnography, which are her area of specialization. She considers “traditional” ethnography to have three components: space, time, and mobility.

Insider/outsider stance is explained within the context of spatiality, community, and culture of space specific to ‘traditional” ethnography. Researchers are outsiders who are attempting to enter a space and become insiders, then leave the space once the research is completed. Research is conducted over an extended period of time in one place/space. As a result, researchers will get to know in an extremely intimate manner the ways of life of the community or group. “Work is supposed to be a temporality of slowness. In other words, you don’t rush around like a mad thing in a field, you just quietly and slowly immerse yourself in the field over this extended period of time and get to understand it, get to appreciate it bit by bit.” (minute 7:56).

“Traditional” ethnographers are not necessarily interested in mobility over time or exploring who enters and exits the site. Most ethnographers are only interested in the movement that occurs in the space that is being studied during the time that they are in the field. It is about looking at the roots of the space, not necessarily about looking at the movements into and out of the space.

Multi-sited global ethnography tries to look at the way bounded sites can be studied as unbounded and on the move, as opposed to staying still. It considers how certain things (e.g., things, ideas, people) are  followed as they move. The researcher moves between sites, studying change that is encountered in different sites. From this perspective, the interested lies in the connections between sites. Multiple sites with commonalities can also be studied at the onset, without the need to physically follow.

Paulus, T. M., Lester, J. N., & Dempster, P. G. (2014). Digital Tools for Qualitative Research. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

While this text is not solely about ethnographic case studies, it is rich with countless ideas for utilizing digital tools to aid in the multiple facets of qualitative research. In Chapter 5 of their text, entitled Generating Data, the authors dedicate a section to exploring Internet archives and multimedia data. They state that, “in addition to online communities, the Internet is rich with multimedia data such as professionally curated archives, ameteur-created YouTube and Vimeo videos and photo-sharing sites” (p. 81). They provide three specific examples, each explained below: The Internet Archive, CADENSA, and Britain’s BBC Archives.

The Internet Archive ( https://archive.org ) is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more. The site also contains a variety of cultural artifacts that are easily available and downloadable. CADENSA ( http://cadensa.bl.uk ) is an online archive of the British Library Sound and Moving Image Catalogue. And finally, the BBC Archives ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/ ) is a particularly useful site for researchers interested in reviewing documentary film and political speeches.

Wang, T. (2016, September). Tricia Wang: The human insights missing from big data. [Video file]. Retrieved from  https://www.ted.com/talks/tricia_wang_the_human_insights_missing_from_big_data

In this TED Talk, Tricia Wang discusses her ethnographic work with technology and advocates for the need to save a place for thick data as opposed to relying only on big data. She argues that while companies invest millions of dollars in generating big data because they assume it will efficiently provide all the answers, it routinely does not provide a good return on investment. Instead, companies are left without answers to the questions about consumer preferences and behaviors, which leaves them unprepared for market changes.

In turn, Wang coins the term thick data, which is described as “precious data from humans, like stories, emotions, and interactions that cannot be quantified” (Minute 11:50). Wang suggests that this thick data may only come from a small group of individuals, but it is an essential component that can provide insights that are different and valuable. As an example, while working for Nokia, her ethnographic experiences in China provided her with new understandings on the future demand for smartphones. However, her employer did not take her findings seriously, and as a result, they lost their foothold in the technology market. She posits that a blended approach to collecting and analyzing data (i.e. combining or integrating thick data analysis with big data analysis) allows for a better grasp on the whole picture and making informed decisions.

Her conclusions for a blended approach to data collection also have implications for blending ethnographic and case-study approaches. While Wang took more of an ethnographic approach to her research, one could envision what her work might have looked like if she had used an Ethnographic Case Study approach. Wang could have clearly defined the time and space boundaries of her various ethnographic experiences (e.g. as a street vendor, living in the slums, hanging out in internet cafés). This would have allowed her to infer causality through the generation of thick data with a small sample size for each location and bound by each group.

Ethnographic Case Studies Copyright © 2019 by Jeannette Armstrong; Laura Boyle; Lindsay Herron; Brandon Locke; and Leslie Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • What Is Ethnography? | Definition, Guide & Examples

What Is Ethnography? | Definition, Guide & Examples

Published on March 13, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on June 22, 2023.

Ethnography is a type of qualitative research that involves immersing yourself in a particular community or organization to observe their behavior and interactions up close. The word “ethnography” also refers to the written report of the research that the ethnographer produces afterwards.

Ethnography is a flexible research method that allows you to gain a deep understanding of a group’s shared culture, conventions, and social dynamics. However, it also involves some practical and ethical challenges.

Table of contents

What is ethnography used for, different approaches to ethnographic research, gaining access to a community, working with informants, observing the group and taking field notes, writing up an ethnography, other interesting articles.

Ethnographic research originated in the field of anthropology, and it often involved an anthropologist living with an isolated tribal community for an extended period of time in order to understand their culture.

This type of research could sometimes last for years. For example, Colin M. Turnbull lived with the Mbuti people for three years in order to write the classic ethnography The Forest People .

Today, ethnography is a common approach in various social science fields, not just anthropology. It is used not only to study distant or unfamiliar cultures, but also to study specific communities within the researcher’s own society.

For example, ethnographic research (sometimes called participant observation ) has been used to investigate  football fans , call center workers , and police officers .

Advantages of ethnography

The main advantage of ethnography is that it gives the researcher direct access to the culture and practices of a group. It is a useful approach for learning first-hand about the behavior and interactions of people within a particular context.

By becoming immersed in a social environment, you may have access to more authentic information and spontaneously observe dynamics that you could not have found out about simply by asking.

Ethnography is also an open and flexible method. Rather than aiming to verify a general theory or test a hypothesis , it aims to offer a rich narrative account of a specific culture, allowing you to explore many different aspects of the group and setting.

Disadvantages of ethnography

Ethnography is a time-consuming method. In order to embed yourself in the setting and gather enough observations to build up a representative picture, you can expect to spend at least a few weeks, but more likely several months. This long-term immersion can be challenging, and requires careful planning.

Ethnographic research can run the risk of observer bias . Writing an ethnography involves subjective interpretation, and it can be difficult to maintain the necessary distance to analyze a group that you are embedded in.

There are often also ethical considerations to take into account: for example, about how your role is disclosed to members of the group, or about observing and reporting sensitive information.

Should you use ethnography in your research?

If you’re a student who wants to use ethnographic research in your thesis or dissertation , it’s worth asking yourself whether it’s the right approach:

  • Could the information you need be collected in another way (e.g. a survey , interviews)?
  • How difficult will it be to gain access to the community you want to study?
  • How exactly will you conduct your research, and over what timespan?
  • What ethical issues might arise?

If you do decide to do ethnography, it’s generally best to choose a relatively small and easily accessible group, to ensure that the research is feasible within a limited timeframe.

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ethnography case study differences

There are a few key distinctions in ethnography which help to inform the researcher’s approach: open vs. closed settings, overt vs. covert ethnography, and active vs. passive observation. Each approach has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Open vs. closed settings

The setting of your ethnography—the environment in which you will observe your chosen community in action—may be open or closed.

An open or public setting is one with no formal barriers to entry. For example, you might consider a community of people living in a certain neighborhood, or the fans of a particular baseball team.

  • Gaining initial access to open groups is not too difficult…
  • …but it may be harder to become immersed in a less clearly defined group.

A closed or private setting is harder to access. This may be for example a business, a school, or a cult.

  • A closed group’s boundaries are clearly defined and the ethnographer can become fully immersed in the setting…
  • …but gaining access is tougher; the ethnographer may have to negotiate their way in or acquire some role in the organization.

Overt vs. covert ethnography

Most ethnography is overt . In an overt approach, the ethnographer openly states their intentions and acknowledges their role as a researcher to the members of the group being studied.

  • Overt ethnography is typically preferred for ethical reasons, as participants can provide informed consent…
  • …but people may behave differently with the awareness that they are being studied.

Sometimes ethnography can be covert . This means that the researcher does not tell participants about their research, and comes up with some other pretense for being there.

  • Covert ethnography allows access to environments where the group would not welcome a researcher…
  • …but hiding the researcher’s role can be considered deceptive and thus unethical.

Active vs. passive observation

Different levels of immersion in the community may be appropriate in different contexts. The ethnographer may be a more active or passive participant depending on the demands of their research and the nature of the setting.

An active role involves trying to fully integrate, carrying out tasks and participating in activities like any other member of the community.

  • Active participation may encourage the group to feel more comfortable with the ethnographer’s presence…
  • …but runs the risk of disrupting the regular functioning of the community.

A passive role is one in which the ethnographer stands back from the activities of others, behaving as a more distant observer and not involving themselves in the community’s activities.

  • Passive observation allows more space for careful observation and note-taking…
  • …but group members may behave unnaturally due to feeling they are being observed by an outsider.

While ethnographers usually have a preference, they also have to be flexible about their level of participation. For example, access to the community might depend upon engaging in certain activities, or there might be certain practices in which outsiders cannot participate.

An important consideration for ethnographers is the question of access. The difficulty of gaining access to the setting of a particular ethnography varies greatly:

  • To gain access to the fans of a particular sports team, you might start by simply attending the team’s games and speaking with the fans.
  • To access the employees of a particular business, you might contact the management and ask for permission to perform a study there.
  • Alternatively, you might perform a covert ethnography of a community or organization you are already personally involved in or employed by.

Flexibility is important here too: where it’s impossible to access the desired setting, the ethnographer must consider alternatives that could provide comparable information.

For example, if you had the idea of observing the staff within a particular finance company but could not get permission, you might look into other companies of the same kind as alternatives. Ethnography is a sensitive research method, and it may take multiple attempts to find a feasible approach.

All ethnographies involve the use of informants . These are people involved in the group in question who function as the researcher’s primary points of contact, facilitating access and assisting their understanding of the group.

This might be someone in a high position at an organization allowing you access to their employees, or a member of a community sponsoring your entry into that community and giving advice on how to fit in.

However,  i f you come to rely too much on a single informant, you may be influenced by their perspective on the community, which might be unrepresentative of the group as a whole.

In addition, an informant may not provide the kind of spontaneous information which is most useful to ethnographers, instead trying to show what they believe you want to see. For this reason, it’s good to have a variety of contacts within the group.

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The core of ethnography is observation of the group from the inside. Field notes are taken to record these observations while immersed in the setting; they form the basis of the final written ethnography. They are usually written by hand, but other solutions such as voice recordings can be useful alternatives.

Field notes record any and all important data: phenomena observed, conversations had, preliminary analysis. For example, if you’re researching how service staff interact with customers, you should write down anything you notice about these interactions—body language, phrases used repeatedly, differences and similarities between staff, customer reactions.

Don’t be afraid to also note down things you notice that fall outside the pre-formulated scope of your research; anything may prove relevant, and it’s better to have extra notes you might discard later than to end up with missing data.

Field notes should be as detailed and clear as possible. It’s important to take time to go over your notes, expand on them with further detail, and keep them organized (including information such as dates and locations).

After observations are concluded, there’s still the task of writing them up into an ethnography. This entails going through the field notes and formulating a convincing account of the behaviors and dynamics observed.

The structure of an ethnography

An ethnography can take many different forms: It may be an article, a thesis, or an entire book, for example.

Ethnographies often do not follow the standard structure of a scientific paper, though like most academic texts, they should have an introduction and conclusion. For example, this paper begins by describing the historical background of the research, then focuses on various themes in turn before concluding.

An ethnography may still use a more traditional structure, however, especially when used in combination with other research methods. For example, this paper follows the standard structure for empirical research: introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion.

The content of an ethnography

The goal of a written ethnography is to provide a rich, authoritative account of the social setting in which you were embedded—to convince the reader that your observations and interpretations are representative of reality.

Ethnography tends to take a less impersonal approach than other research methods. Due to the embedded nature of the work, an ethnography often necessarily involves discussion of your personal experiences and feelings during the research.

Ethnography is not limited to making observations; it also attempts to explain the phenomena observed in a structured, narrative way. For this, you may draw on theory, but also on your direct experience and intuitions, which may well contradict the assumptions that you brought into the research.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Normal distribution
  • Degrees of freedom
  • Null hypothesis
  • Discourse analysis
  • Control groups
  • Mixed methods research
  • Non-probability sampling
  • Quantitative research
  • Ecological validity

Research bias

  • Rosenthal effect
  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Selection bias
  • Negativity bias
  • Status quo bias

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Ethnography and case study: a comparative analysis.

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Potential and limitations of digital ethnographic research: A case study on a web community

Giuseppe masullo.

1 Department of Human Sciences, Philosophy and Education, University of Salerno, Fisciano, Italy

Marianna Coppola

2 Department of Political and Communication Sciences, University of Salerno, Fisciano, Italy

Associated Data

The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.

Introduction

This work aims at transposing ethnographic research into digital contexts to probe its potential and limitations in a specific field of study: that of sexuality, particularly suited to ethnographic exploration. We chose as our case study a web community of Italian asexual people. As we shall see, this allowed us to simultaneously explore both the various techniques called into play in digital ethnography and the digital as a specific sphere within which sexuality takes on a very peculiar meaning. Digital sociality is paramount for the definition of imaginaries, meanings, and practices that could not be explored elsewhere. This is due to the implicit characteristics of the population studied, which does not find corresponding physical spaces of aggregation.

The paper will present the research design using this specific case study to address some of the typical dilemmas that researchers face when following the digital ethnographic approach and will explore the research results as an example of the kind of analysis available with the information and data collected through this method.

Results and discussion

The conclusions will attempt to briefly outline the shortfalls and advantages of this method, considering its application to this specific field of study.

Among the social research methods, ethnography is one of the most comprehensive tools available to researchers to reconstruct the visions, perspectives, imaginaries, beliefs, values, and practices that underpin a given culture (Masullo et al., 2020 ). It is no coincidence that many manuals on social research methods and techniques consider the ethnographic approach to be among the most representative of a “specific” way of doing research. Ethnography also has the merit of successfully combining three procedures that may not simultaneously come into play in research inspired by the interpretative tradition, namely: observing, questioning, and reading (Corbetta, 2005 ). In ethnographic research, researchers immerse themselves fully in their field of research—and, in some cases, are themselves part of it as members of the community investigated (auto-ethnography). In this type of study, all the senses are put to the test by the objective of the investigation. The choice of such an approach is not neutral and implies upstream decisions that are articulated along three planes: ontological, epistemological, and methodological. The ontological one refers to a reality understood as a social construction of meaning. The epistemological relates to the relationship between researchers and the object of the research. Finally, the methodological one concerns a multi-method approach involving the use of different techniques of information-gathering: observing (participant observation), questioning (the interview), and reading (triangulation with secondary data sources).

This work aims at transposing ethnographic research into digital contexts to probe its potential and limitations in a specific field of study: that of sexuality, particularly suited to ethnographic exploration (Delli Paoli, 2022 ). We chose as our case study a web community of Italian asexual people. As we shall see, this allowed us to simultaneously explore both the various techniques called into play in digital ethnography and the digital as a specific sphere within which sexuality takes on a very peculiar meaning. Digital sociality is paramount for the definition of imaginaries, meanings, and practices that could not be explored elsewhere. This is due to the implicit characteristics of the population studied, which does not find corresponding physical spaces of aggregation.

The first section of the paper will detail some theoretical aspects relating to the digital ethnography approach, analyzing the similarities and differences with the traditional ethnographic approach, followed by a description of the community under investigation (asexual people). We will highlight the processes that lead this sexual minority to consider the digital environment as the only place in which to self-define and express themselves. The second section of the paper will present the research design using this specific case study to address some of the typical dilemmas that researchers face when following the digital ethnographic approach. The third section will explore the research results as an example of the kind of analysis available with the information and data collected through this method. The conclusions will attempt to briefly outline the shortfalls and advantages of this method, considering its application to this specific field of study.

The digital ethnographic approach: Similarities and differences with the traditional ethnographic approach

Born in recent years as a transposition of the classical ethnographic approach into the digital environment, digital ethnography is in some respects still an unexplored field currently attracting young as well as more experienced scholars (Masullo, 2020 ). Its transversal pull can be ascribed to the fact that, though retaining many of its original features (directly linked to the hermeneutic sociological tradition), its application to the digital environment and the interpretative and methodological challenges it entails bring out new potential. The methodological literature on this approach is not yet systematic, as shown by the plurality of terminological labels attributed to it. Some of these, mainly used in the sociological field, frame this approach in the tradition of digital sociology and digital methods and thus speak of “digital ethnography” (Murthy, 2008 ); others, particularly in marketing, refer to the importance of the network and thus define it as “netnography” (Kozinets, 2002 , 2010 , 2015 ) 1 .

The new information and communication technologies greatly affect many areas of people's life and, therefore, many processes at the heart of the sociological investigation. Focusing on micro-sociological aspects and everyday life, platforms and new communication tools have engendered for and in individuals a new way of conceiving themselves and their reality. They broadened their social and collective horizons and their way of meeting and interacting with others (Masullo and Addeo, 2021 ). The pervasiveness of technology and the ubiquity determined by the so-called “internet of things” configure new realities in which some juxtapositions are irrelevant and no longer explicative—for example, online/offline, virtual/real, material/immaterial (Garcia et al., 2009 ; Beneito-Montagut, 2011 ; Scaramuzzino, 2012 ). The normative and value references connected to social action no longer relate only to a precise sphere delimited in space and time but expand through the subjects' ability to surf the net and take full advantage of all the potential (informative, communicative, and relational) offered therein. In the face of the current expansion of the web society, the perspectives of ethnographic research are expanding in tandem with the digital world. Concerning the objects of study, we can distinguish between the exploration of classic sociological objects of study and how they can be rethought in the digital sphere and through digitisation, or the exploration of natively digital phenomena, which arise directly within the web. In the latter case, the web becomes both the field in which the observation takes place and the context in which the phenomenon itself originated. Initially, the ethnographic approach applied mainly to online communities, delimited digital spaces of social aggregation around a specific domain of interest. In recent years, however, these privileged sites have been supplemented or sometimes replaced by social media sites and metadata in digital ethnographic research. The ongoing rise of these new spaces for ethnographic fieldwork, in turn, promotes new types of ethnographic practice that are still partly unexplored (Delli Paoli, 2022 ). Despite this change, ethnographic activity retains its original meaning, namely the interest in culture as a text that must be decoded by the ethnographers, who cannot merely read the data. It is, therefore, still assumed as ontologically central that creation and creativity are inherent in ethnographic research (Delli Paoli, 2022 ). Geertz ( 1973 ) defines “thick descriptions” as deep cultural representations, which do not stop at the exteriority of things, but take into account stratified cultural meanings and thus manage to unravel the fabric of culture and produce descriptions that are consistent with the indigenous point of view. On an epistemological level, the process of cultural translation appears (including in the digital environment) as a tension between foreignness and familiarity, in the dialogical dialectic between detachment and empathy. Just as in in-presence ethnography, digital ethnographers must maintain what Davis ( 1973 ) defines as the balance between the Martian, who strives to maintain detachment from the cultural and cognitive assumptions of the natives, and the convert, who identifies totally with the cultural models of the natives. On the methodological level, digital ethnography reaffirms the centrality of observation. As in classical ethnography, such observation can involve a different involvement of the researcher in the community under investigation. However, unlike classical ethnography, this observation opens up further, hidden forms of observation that are not possible in the case of the physical participation of the researcher on the field—as it is not possible to conceal his presence. The literature is divided between proponents of the two types of observation. The arguments in favor of overt observation revolve around the ethical and deontological aspects of research and the need to reveal to the subjects that they are being observed and studied. From this point of view, covert observation, also known as covert access or lurking, would be an unethical practice. Arguments in favor of covert (or lurking) observation, on the other hand, emphasize the non-intrusiveness of this method, which favors the “naturalness” of the information gathered (Masullo et al., 2020 ).

From this point of view, Delli Paoli ( 2022 , p. 200) observes that “On the one hand, there are scholars who suggest that lurking is not an ethnographic observation in the traditional sense and therefore not a “correct” ethnography (....) it provides any deep understanding of the community, but only a superficial description. On the other hand, there are scholars who idealize the possibility of lurking, which would offer a unique opportunity for “natural” data collection, as members are unaware of their status as informants and the presence of the researcher does not cause them to change their behavior”.

The choice between one and the other type of observation is not completely free. In cases where the presence of a researcher would not be welcome, for instance in the case of sexual minorities or practices at the limits of legality, covert observation remains the only possible way into the field.

Other specificities of the digital ethnographic approach, compared to classical face-to-face ethnography, are to be found in its efficiency in data collection, which requires much less time, and its opportunity to expand the geographical dimension of the research field and connect networks scattered all over the world. The researcher does not need to travel anywhere; information can be located and stored on the Internet without having to be recorded and transcribed as the traditional ethnographer must do (Kozinets, 2002 ). Another strength is the invisibility and relative discretion of the researcher: cyberspace allows researchers to be invisible to the people they are observing more easily than in face-to-face observation (Kozinets, 2010 ; Scaramuzzino, 2012 ; Murthy, 2013 ; Varis, 2014 ; Masullo et al., 2020 ). However, the digital ethnographic approach also has some limitations compared to in-person research. In the online environment, the episodic nature of the relationship that the members have with a virtual community (such as a blog, a discussion forum, or a Facebook group) requires a rethinking of the concept of community and communitarianism and makes it difficult to investigate relevant aspects in physical contexts, such as those of a structural nature relating to the dimension of power (which in the sociological sense cannot be deduced only from the level of participation of the users, nor from the configuration of the posts, opinion leaders, and shifts in interaction). The level of involvement of the researchers in the community studied will also vary depending on the degree of familiarity they can create with the members of a community—who, moreover, are ever-changing and for whom socio-demographic characteristics (gender, age, ethnicity, educational qualification, social class, etc.) do not always come to the fore (or are not always true in the digital sphere). The latter aspect makes it clear that digital ethnography cannot be considered a mere transposition of physical ethnography, and that the renunciations it requires are acceptable in the case of phenomena that find their only form of expression in the digital world and require a multi-method approach of exploration (of observing, questioning, and reading).

The following section will describe in detail the phenomenon of asexuality to provide some characteristics of the population that recognizes itself in this expression of sexual orientation. This will also allow us to grasp the reasons why digital ethnography is considered a particularly valid approach for studying hidden populations, which find many spaces for their expression in the digital environment (Monaco, 2021 ).

The phenomenon of asexuality: A literature review

In recent years, the number of self-described “asexual” people has increased. In the literature, asexuality (or the acronym ACE) is defined as a sexual orientation in which the person declares an absence and/or a consistent reduction in sexual and erotic attraction or frequency of face-to-face sexual practices (Decker, 2015 ; Gupta, 2017 ). Recently, the definition has been updated in the experience of little or no sexual attraction to include a more comprehensive spectrum of experiences of sexual attraction (Carrigan, 2011 ; Decker, 2015 ).

The study of asexuality has prompted the scientific community to trace the possible motivations and explanations that contributed to the formation and spread of the phenomenon. On the other hand, it also made explicit the need to rework and reconsider the normative parameters on the meaning of sexuality, which in our society is often understood as a sine qua non of romantic and emotional relationships between partners. In a context characterized by a widespread appeal to sexuality, asexuality challenges the dominant conceptualization of sex as a universal and natural dimension and sheds light on the different ways in which individuals conceive it depending on their biographical experience and subjective desires (Delli Paoli and Masullo, 2022 ).

Bogaert and Skorska ( 2011 ), one of the main authors who studied asexuality, highlights two different subcategories: primary , in which the subjects never experienced a hetero-referenced sexual attraction/interest, and acquired , in which the subjects, after a period of hetero-referenced sexual attraction/interest, define themselves as ACE due to personal and social motivations that scholars are beginning to explore.

A further distinction (and sub-classification) within the ACE condition stems from the studies of Poston and Baumle ( 2010 ), who highlighted how some categories of people cannot be included in that of asexuality. For example, those who choose chastity before marriage, or who are celibate for religious reasons, or, finally, INCELS (involuntary celibates), subjects in whom sexual attraction and erotic desire are not absent, but “unexpressed” due to social, psychological, or cultural conditions.

Lehmiller and Gormezano ( 2022 ) pointed out that asexuality affects about 1% of the American population, pinpointing four aspects that identify this condition.

  • a) It does not correspond to chastity . Both conditions are characterized by the absence of sexual activity, but their motivations differ. Asexual people experience a total or partial absence of erotic desire and sexual attraction toward others. Conversely, people who choose chastity continue to have sexual attraction toward other people.
  • b) It is not a sexual dysfunction . The asexual condition is a normal and possible expression of sexual orientation; it is not related to any organic or psychological pathology of the sexual sphere.
  • c) It is not related to inexperience . Asexuality is not attributable to shyness or other expressions of a psychological nature.
  • d) It is not devoid of autoeroticism . While it is true that asexual persons are not attracted to other people, this does not imply that they avoid regular autoeroticism and sexual self-gratification.

For Lehmiller, the asexual condition is ultimately an identifiable and well-structured sexual orientation in its own right.

The scholar also proposes a further classification of asexual persons depending on their relationship with sex and sexual practices, distinguishing between the following: (a) sex-repulsed , i.e., people who feel repulsion toward sex or some specific elements of it; (b) sex-averse , i.e., people who have no intention of having sexual experiences, who are distinguished from sex-repulsed in that a sex-averse person does not necessarily feel repulsion toward general sex, but does not consider it a central aspect of their existence; (c) sex-indifferent , those who do not have a particular interest in sex; (d) sex-favorable , people who experience interest and desire in sex, without being reflected in a constant search for sexual experience.

The asexual condition does not exclude sentimental and romantic attraction to other people, an emotional attraction that is not reflected in a sexual experience (the latter being understood as a practice). Asexual persons, therefore, can be identified as homoromantic , who experience emotional attraction to persons of the same sex, heteroromantic , who experience relational and emotional attraction to persons of the opposite sex, biromantic , who experience emotional attraction to both sexes, panromantic , who experience attraction to other people regardless of their sex and gender identity, and, finally, aromantic (AroAce in the literature) who do not experience sexual, emotional, or relational attraction to any person, regardless of their gender and sexuality.

The asexual condition has been on the rise in recent years among adolescents and young adults, to the point that some scholars are questioning whether this constitutes a generational trait of our age which needs to be addressed. To test this hypothesis, McInroy et al. ( 2021 ) recently conducted a study of 600 Americans aged between 14 and 24 in which they found that around 24% defined themselves as not interested in sex or sexual practices, a percentage that almost doubles in the 14 to 18 years old cohort, to around 45%. The authors link this condition, particularly for younger people, to a phase of “identity instability” or a “transitional” phase of self-knowledge, a hypothesis also supported by the progressive reduction in the percentage of asexual people as age increases.

Studies show that the condition of asexuality and aromanticism is stigmatized not only within mainstream society but also in the LGBTQ+ environment, as it is considered unnatural and/or related to dysfunctional aspects of the psychological or sexual sphere (Robbins et al., 2016 ).

In this regard, a study conducted by MacNeela and Murphy ( 2015 ) on an LGBTQ+ online community found that around 56% of members had not made their asexual orientation explicit in their profile presentations, and that disclosure of their asexual status only occurred at a later stage and/or during an offline meeting.

Finally, Gupta ( 2017 ) traces similarities and differences between the coming out of other non-conforming identities in the LGBTQ+ community and that of asexual and aromantic people. In both cases, there is a desire to come out of the closet, for authenticity and the possibility to relate to people coherently, explicitly highlighting fundamental aspects of the process of identity self-determination. However, this choice also increases the subjects' vulnerability to negative experiences such as harassment, discrimination, marginalization, and violence, since in mainstream society the absence of sexuality is not accepted and integrated—where sexuality is understood as an obligation to which both men and women (albeit with different meanings) are naturally called upon to respond (Kosciw et al., 2013 ; Gupta, 2017 ).

Recent studies in Italy have confirmed the preference of LGBTQ+ people for digital environments to make their sexual identity explicit and as a specific field of socialization to sexuality, also considering the persistence of a general homophobic and transphobic culture together with the repudiation of alternative sexual expressions. Consequently, the latter enjoy a greater possibility of being experienced in digital spaces than in offline reality (Carrigan, 2011 ; Bacio and Peruzzi, 2017 ; Masullo and Coppola, 2020 , 2022 ). Although the condition of asexuality constitutes a sexual orientation in its own right, it shares some characteristics with other subjectivities of the LGBTQ+ universe: it is, to all intents and purposes, one of the “non-normative”' sexual orientations and, therefore, contrast with the imposition of a prevailing sexual model, which finds its raison d'être in “reproduction”. Furthermore, it experiences the same mechanisms of discrimination insofar as this orientation does not find space for its open and complete explicitness in the environments of public society.

The recent digital revolution has affected various spheres of everyday life, broadening and complexifying the social and communicative contexts and spaces for everyone.

The creation of “virtual spaces” has represented a precious opportunity for social emancipation for those subcultures that previously struggled to find aggregative contexts and opportunities for confrontation in mainstream and offline society.

These resources for “emancipation” have proved to be suitable and convenient for the LGBTQ community and asexual people who, thanks to the peculiar characteristics of the web society, have created different and diversified tools for knowledge, comparison, aggregation, and the search for possible sentimental and/or sexual partners.

Cyberspace represents the main, if not the only, space for the aggregation and sharing of opinions, reflections, and of identity confrontation for the new non-conforming sexual identities, such as non-binary, pansexual, and asexual people.

On the one hand, these “new instances” find in the virtual sphere impulses and identity drives to emancipate themselves and consolidate their process of self-determination. On the other hand, however, it is precisely within the online community that they experience forms of discrimination and social disavowal.

In this regard, Smith ( 2012 ) spoke of the delegitimisation of the ACE identity from public discourse, defining it as an invisible and denied society in the offline and online mainstream community, positing the need for specifically dedicated, private, closed, and selective communicative spaces and spheres of confrontation.

The need to build spaces of emancipation and sharing specifically for ACE persons has given rise to the creation of numerous communities, chats, and social pages for this condition worldwide.

McInroy et al. ( 2021 ) recently investigated the use of online communities by people who self-define as asexual and aromantic, highlighting certain functions considered fundamental to a process of self-determination and self-definition . According to the research data, about 14.6% of the participants stated that they had attended or were attending online LGBTQ+ support groups to find information, to find information and clarifications about their condition for the self-determination process. Another important aspect is the search for information on pathologising the Ace condition: about 45.7% of participants sought and requested news, information, and experiences on mental health, psychological, biological, and sexual aspects possibly involved. Finally, 34.5% of participants explicitly stated a relational and social purpose of using the community, highlighting how expressing oneself in a safe, albeit virtual, place is among the main motivations to join the platform, as well as to look for people with similar or partly overlapping experiences.

Materials and methods

Research design.

Starting from the theoretical premises argued above, this section aims to document the various steps of digital ethnographic research in the light of the specific field examined here, that is, the processes of self-definition of the users of the Italian online community dedicated to asexual people, to identify and analyse common traits and differentiations in the imagery and use of cyberspace. It should be noted that this essay follows previous work on the AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network) web community, one of the most important online communities of asexual people, aimed at analyzing the processes of self-identification, as well as the plurality of experiences and attitudes expressed by these people in their request for greater freedom from the constraints of sexuality as a necessary imperative for building meaningful relationships with others, including on a romantic level (Delli Paoli and Masullo, 2022 ).

We decided to replicate the same study in a community frequented mainly by Italian people, given that the previous research focused on people familiar with the English language. This choice excluded those who did not speak the language and generated a partial view of the phenomenon in the country. While it is true that patriarchy and heterosexism almost universally shape how relate to the identity-related dimensions of gender and sexuality, in Italy these normative axes can affect them in a very peculiar way. Therefore, we decided to apply the same research approach (that of digital ethnography) to explore in greater detail this specific Italian web community in which relational and power dynamics may be at work in a different way from the case previously examined 2 .

The first fundamental step in the ethnographic research was the definition of the field which, as Kozinets ( 2015 ) points out, concerns not so much the characteristics of the medium or its use, but rather the cultural, relational, and value experiences developed within cross-media digital spaces—in other words, the digital worlds of meaning.

As already out above, digital ethnography was initially born to study online communities that organized themselves around shared lifestyles, values and moral beliefs, emotions, and consumption practices (Cova, 1997 ). The recent technological developments of Web 2.0 and the pervasive diffusion of mobile devices forced the research to adapt to the fact that the spaces and times of online discussions have become increasingly transmedia and linked to a thematic domain rather than a single medium. As Delli Paoli points out, “Most online interactions take shape in a volatile context, without defined spaces but with content delimited by the use of tags, algorithms and data mining techniques that organize the flow of information and act as transversal metadata across web pages, allowing actors to move in non-linear directions from one medium to another” (Cova, 1997 , p. 46).

Given its digital nature, the netnographic approach cannot be media-centric—i.e., tied exclusively to the study of defined online spaces such as blogs and communities.

Adopting the distinction between meta-fields as spaces unrelated to a media and built around a topic and contextual fields as contextualized spaces in blogs, communities, discussion forums, social media groups, etc. (Airoldi, 2018 ; Delli Paoli, 2022 ), the study opts for the latter by examining the Italian online community, which has around 3,000 users. The cases observed are the result of a reasoned selection based on “theoretical sampling” criteria that envisage the selection of typical cases able to provide the best opportunities to find the information necessary for the study and that, as a sample, can be close enough to the population analyzed (though not representative).

Digital ethnography can be considered a distinctive method to study social changes resulting from the digital world itself. In the case of sexuality, for instance, the digital sphere offers unprecedented discursive spaces to those sexual minorities that find no space in offline reality. It is in the digital world that these minorities find the full possibility for self-expression (as in the case of asexual people) and within this context that these individuals interact and construct their own language, giving rise to specific practices and scripts that would not be possible or imaginable outside this sphere (Rinaldi, 2016 ; Delli Paoli and Masullo, 2022 ). Digital ethnography thus proves to be particularly appropriate as a research approach, especially to study those phenomena born in the digital realm, and to investigate generative and productive (and not only reflexive) digital identities and cultures, making it possible to document the performative use of language (Butler, 2004 ).

The second step entailed the definition of research questions. From this point of view, the digital ethnographic approach highlights the typical advantages of interpretive approaches, insofar as there is no sequential order between field definition and research questions (Hammersley, 1995 ). While it is true that in some cases the research questions guide the selection of the field, the difficulty of finding information on the asexual condition, which is considered a hidden and invisible population in offline reality, determined the need to first select the field of study, and then the research questions. Nevertheless, the latter also gradually emerged during the observation, given that this is a virtually unexplored field in Italian research.

The lack of studies on the subject does not imply that the research approach lacks a theoretical foundation. On the contrary, we believe that the choice of field, and the selection of what to observe, are choices that must always be contextualized to the fields and objects examined (in our case, that of sexuality). It could not be otherwise: an observation without a guide, not oriented by what Blumer ( 1954 ) called “sensitizing” concepts, would prevent the researchers from selecting and distinguishing, within the reality observed, the “meaningful” elements from those “banal” and misleading. Moreover, observation can only take place based on a series of pre-cognitions relating to the field one intends to explore. As we can learn from one of the most famous community studies, conducted by Lynd and Lynd ( 1970 ) on Middletown, observation must always be preceded by background research that includes not only the study of specific literature on the subject but also documentary analysis (in the case in point, the study of statistical sources).

Another fundamental aspect was the accessibility of the field. In this case, it depends on both the characteristics of the platform being examined, i.e., its “accessibility” and the need to choose an online community in which the level of interaction is particularly intense and which for the chosen topic constitutes a reference in the digital environment. Regarding the first point, the asexual community allows access only after registering and filling in a profile. Regarding the second point, the chosen online community represents the main space where Italian asexuals meet. This digital field was chosen after an exploratory observation aimed at detecting the main users and gatekeepers, the intensity of interactions and the affordances of the platform.

From the outset, the research was confronted with ethical dilemmas, directly related to its objectives and the techniques it intended to employ. Regarding observation—understood as the main technique of digital ethnographic research—we opted for a mixed mode between covert access and the explication of our identity as researchers. From an ethical point of view, as pointed out above, the omission of identity becomes justifiable and legitimate, as some scholars claim, in certain circumstances, especially when the benefits outweigh the social and ethical costs of such a violation. In this case, for instance, making the researcher's role explicit from the outset would have made the field inaccessible.

In the first phase, we gathered information covertly without revealing our presence to those concerned, a more appropriate—if ethically questionable—choice for studying invisible populations. In the second phase, we informed users of the research and our role as researchers. We never intervened to alter the context of the interactions. On the contrary, we strove to preserve the ecology of the environment and, therefore, our method can be defined as non-participant observation.

The observation period went from 22 October to 22 December 2021. We examined 200 profiles and presentations and over 500 related posts, collected in a specific excel grid. Alongside the grid, we drew up a daily diary in which we noted down field notes related to what we read in the online community, which proved valuable in the definition of the first research questions. Among the most significant, which guided the subsequent steps of the research, were the following:

  • RQ1: What are the main motivations and/or paths that lead the individual to choose a relational modality involving the absence and/or reduction of sexual activity?
  • RQ2: How do users use the community and for what purposes?
  • RQ3: How do users define themselves in relation to the different meanings attributed to the concept of asexuality?
  • RQ4: What differences emerge between the way users define themselves and their main socio-demographic characteristics?

The researchers' identity was later made explicit by contacting certain users willing to answer questions through a private messaging system provided by the platform. This procedure constitutes the second technique employed in this study: we decided not to limit ourselves to “observing” but also to “question” our cases, for two main purposes: (1) to clarify certain meanings connected to the language typical of this subculture which could have escaped the researcher inexperienced in the universe examined, (2) to delve deeper and reinforce certain intuitions gathered during the observation phase.

About the “reading”, we decided to examine 200 profiles in the observed period. We proceeded to extrapolate a series of information on socio-biographical variables to infer possible associations between them and certain traits of asexual persons identified in the literature.

The decision to analyse the ecological information made available by the medium Rogers ( 2013 ) when he affirmed the follow-the-medium principle as foundational to digital methods: the researcher is called upon to follow the ontological properties of the medium, to immerse himself in it, to equip himself with a methodological apparatus that is natively digital by making the technical strategies and natural logics of digital media his own and using them as methodological sources.

For clarity's sake, we described the operations of “observing”, “questioning”, and “reading” sequentially, in relation to the three techniques employed in this study. However, they most often occurred in parallel, taking full advantage of the flexibility of the ethnographic approach.

The last phase of the research concerned information analysis and was mainly conducted through qualitative content analysis approaches, also known as Ethnographic Content Analysis (Altheide, 1987 ).

Content analysis is essentially based on the interpretation and classification of texts with the help of the most diverse, sometimes competing, and contradictory procedures (Rositi, 1998 ) to infer from the texts their meanings and contexts of use (Krippendorff, 2013 , p. 24). Through this method, texts are brought back to a limited number of categories using explicit analytical decomposition, classification, and coding procedures (Weber, 1990 ).

Content classification employs inductive coding strategies. In other words, instead of coding the texts based on a priori classifications, the classification is adapted in the process through the reading and re-reading of the texts. Text interpretation is carried out following the principles and techniques of the hermeneutic approach to social research (Montesperelli, 1998 ), which aimed to identify the widespread and shared common-sense dimensions related to the world of asexuality.

The following section will present some results. For ease of reading, we will begin by describing online presentations and interactions to construct a typology of asexual people. We will then try to see how these profiles are distributed according to the main socio-demographic variables deduced from the profile analysis. The aim is not only to arrive at a more complete analysis of the phenomenon but also to describe all the analytical procedures that can be used in this type of approach.

Following mainstream models: Emotional fragility and social pressures

When registering to the community, users are required to fill in a personal profile with socio-biographical information, including their gender, sexual orientation, age, place of residence and some considerations about themselves in terms of a brief presentation. These are generally followed by comments from other users. The resulting interactions shed a light on the various points of view on asexuality.

To delve deeper into the motives that lead people to self-identify as asexual, we examined the presentations in profiles, comments, and general interactions within the platform.

Through the analysis of this information, we discovered some of the motivations that lead users to identify themselves as “asexual”. We identified both individual factors, such as personality traits or emotional aspects connected to experiences that led them to voluntarily renounce sexual relations, and social and cultural factors, partly referring to social pressures connected to stigmatization and discrimination.

About the former, fragility-related experiences frame the choice of asexuality. According to the studies by Carrigan ( 2012 ), Foster and Scherrer ( 2014 ) and Yule et al. ( 2015 ), low self-esteem and a lack of trust in others are positively correlated with the decision to renounce sexuality. This same issue is also highlighted in some posts, such as the one below.

I am asexual. That is, I've never had sex and I don't care. The truth is that since childhood I have always been shy and awkward. My mother was alone, I mean I never knew my father and I have no brothers or sisters. It was always just the two of us, alone. In high school, I had few friends and those few had more problems than me. I currently study literature (...) and live in a house with other people. I have exchanged very few words with them. My life is full of silence and time. Perhaps I am asexual by choice, not my own. I see the future with fear (ID76) 3

Asexuality is experienced with great difficulty because the obligation to sexuality is taken for granted in intimate relationships, often leading to the need to envisage strategies to avoid all situations where the pressure becomes stronger.

Basically, I am absolutely not interested in sex, so much so that every time I fell in love I did absolutely nothing, I enjoyed being in their company every free moment, but constantly feared the moment when it would be inevitable to touch the subject (of course the “sexuals” expect it and at some point, sometimes pretending to joke about it, they will ask “but don't you like me? how come we never.. ?”)
Aware of being unfit to sustain a normal relationship, I have avoided it, I have tried to live with them exciting moments (and there have always been many), and I have carefully avoided situations in which we could risk finding ourselves alone in non-public places, I have always made sure that “it was getting so late that at that point I could at most offer them a ride home... like, you know, tomorrow I have a very busy day at work” (ID51) .

Many users name social expectations and other people's pressures on their personal experiences as one of the main reasons which have, over time, dulled and in many cases extinguished their interest in sexuality and sexual practices. Self-presentations often reveal cases of marginalization, loneliness, and high demands in the life contexts of individuals, starting with the family and ending with social and/or educational contexts.

I am terrible at introducing myself, so I'll get straight to the point. In my life, I have always perceived that something about me was different from my peers, until a few months ago. I was seen as the odd one out, maybe gay or who knows what was on his mind, perpetually lonely and not participating in male banter. As I grew up, I developed the “ability” to adapt and hide from others to make that awkwardness go away, which didn't belong to me, actually, since it had always seemed more like someone else's problem. I tried to be with girls, but they expected too much from me compared to what I could give both sexually and emotionally. The hardest thing was being able to talk and explain how I felt but when I tried to do that... “go to a psychologist and solve your problems”. Not that it helped much, actually, and the ironic thing, after all this time, at 35, I felt better watching BoJack Horseman and its explanation of Todd. Immediately afterwards I started to feel at peace with myself. A cartoon explained what I felt about myself and that above all I am not alone (ID80)
I am not exactly in my prime: I am 57 years old and for a long time now I have been, as I understand it, asexual. Sex has never been important to me. But I must say that since I got rid of it, I've been living much better. It was always a “gold rush” and many women made me feel inadequate because I was never good enough. Interest has steadily waned. Now I live my time with friends and people who have the same interests. Maybe I can find new friends even in this chat room. (ID123)

Ethnographic observation of self-presentations and interactions shows that some users experience a condition that in some ways overlaps with voluntary social self-isolation, better known as the Hikikomori Effect.

Recent studies (Masullo, 2021 ) have shown that the phenomenon of voluntary social self-isolation is rapidly expanding, particularly in younger people, and that this phenomenon has redefined and reworked many processes of socialization. In this case, the redefinition also encompasses sexual aspects, as highlighted by this post:

I hope I am on the right forum (...) I don't know if I can call myself asexual, but my situation is this. I have never had a relationship with anyone, and I have no sexual interest in anyone. I don't think I even know if I like boys or girls. But that's simply because I don't live among people, I haven't left the house since graduation. Yes, maybe I've gone out a few times to buy clothes or accompany my mother somewhere, but I tend to never leave the house and I don't have any friends, at least, not in Bergamo. So, I would like to know if there are people in this forum who are in the same situation as me? (ID44)

A typology of asexual people

The self-presentations and interactions on the platform allowed us to trace some of the specificities of people who define themselves as asexual or who are questioning their sexual identity, thus making it possible to obtain more details regarding the meaning of this choice, of which users are often not even clearly aware. The posts highlight two main characteristics, which would seem to ground or delineate certain ways of experiencing their condition as an asexual person, (even in the absence of shared definitions in the mainstream LGBTQ+ community): in simple terms, “love”, and sex. The former is how users consider and feel about the need to form relationships with others in sentimental terms, i.e., to build a meaningful relationship which can be a prelude to love and an emotionally fulfilling relationship. The latter is the degree of importance they attribute to sexual practices, which calls into play the need to relate with the other in a physical sense, in response to both a self-directed impulse (to feel sexual desire) and a hetero-directed one (in response to a social expectation connected to the influence of the main agencies of socialization to sexuality, including partners, family, friends, etc.,).

Based on these dimensions, we constructed a typology of asexual identities, taking full advantage of the potential of digital ethnographic research (Kozinets, 2015 ; Masullo et al., 2020 ). The typology results from the intersection of two dimensions: the degree of importance attached to the construction of a romantic relationship and the degree of importance attached to sex. Four hypothetical ways of being an asexual person are thus highlighted, which can be summarized in the following diagram ( Figure 1 ):

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Typologies of users of Asexuality community.

The first quadrant in the upper left-hand corner includes those in an initial process of self-reflection regarding their sexual identity, who also use the web community to gather information to better define themselves. We called them “self-directed” asexuals. This group comprises individuals who focus their attention on sexuality per se rather than on the need to build meaningful relationships with others in a sentimental or romantic sense. Their posts—often in the form of a question—focus on the meaning of sex per se and on certain sexual practices, toward which they express curiosity or, in some cases, aversion. In this case, we see a hybrid form of asexuality, not yet clarified, or transitory, as is shown in the following post:

The aspect of autoeroticism and fantasies has not changed since I stopped seeking sexual relationships with partners. When I chat with someone, I try to sabotage any in-person meeting, I prefer to just have fantasies about that person, I think it is the right compromise between pleasure and self-protection (ID189)
I have read that many do not even practice masturbation, I couldn't do without it! But then I don't know if I can call myself asexual... is there someone like me who has no interest in sex with other people but doesn't stop pleasuring himself? (ID166)

In the second box at the top right, we find “hetero-directed” asexuals, i.e., individuals who feel the need to build meaningful romantic relationships with others but, at the same time, feel no interest toward sex and, in general, all kinds of sexual practices. It is worth noticing that, in this group, sex does not disappear but takes on significance depending on the pressures exerted by the social environment. These may relate, for example, to the demands of a partner, the desire to conform socially to others or the need for sexuality to ensure the continuation of the species, as the following two excerpts show:

Hello, in my life I have never felt a need to have sex, although I have made an effort to look like others, I am interested in sexual energies, (...) I am looking for simple acquaintance, on a friendship level and given my age I need “companionship”. I have many interests, I do meditation, I like traveling, and I like archaeology. (ID33)
Hi, I am an asexual guy who finds it unpleasant to have sex with girls and boys . I think sex is not fundamental to a relationship but only a necessary act for reproduction. If you feel the same way and want to compare notes, you can write to me (ID38)

The third box on the lower left is characterized by an exacerbation of relational closure toward others, a condition defined in the literature as AroACE or asexual aromantics . AroACE people are interested neither in the sexual aspects of the relationship nor in emotional and sentimental involvement.

Aromantic Asexual, I love art, old films, reading, and sport. I love walking surrounded by nature. I like meeting new people, and establishing friendly and sharing relationships, like many of you I do not feel the need for a sexual relationship (ID20) .
I can define myself as asexual but also aromantic. Romantic love is only a concept, and a very recent one at that, just think of history, who married for love? Personally, I find it bothersome to think about sex and I find it hard to think about love. Friendship is already demanding enough. (ID6) .

In the last box on the bottom right are the cases identified in the literature through the acronym ACE (Bogaert and Skorska, 2011 ; McInroy et al., 2021 ). They lack sexual impulses and a consequent reduction of sexual relations but maintain a strong desire to form relationships [with others] in romantic terms, according to the classic scheme of “platonic love”. This condition adheres to the purist conception of asexuality that is transversally evident in almost all users, without distinction for sexual orientation (that is, among both homosexual and heterosexual people). This is in line with recent theories that consider asexuality to be outside the official classification and taxonomies of sexual orientations. Below are two examples of typical presentations of ACE persons:

I discovered I was asexual last January after I made a recap of all my relational experiences with both girls and boys, which were characterized by a total lack of sexual attraction (always on my part), but by romantic attraction with strong emotional ties; but, alas, I was rejected because they saw me more as a friend. Forgive me if I have not written much, I am a man of few words. (ID3) .
Good evening, everyone. (...) I'm asexual and have recently been living this condition of mine with serenity. I must say that in my youth I was ashamed, especially in groups or at home, I felt like I was wrong. But now I am happy that I don't have to hide. I like being in company, I love the mountains and traveling. But above all I like polite people, if I were to meet someone interesting, I'm open to a sentimental relationship. Of course, I am looking for an asexual partner (ID40)

As per the research design, the final stage of the analysis, corresponding to the “reading” procedure, addressed the distribution of certain socio-biographic traits on the profiles of asexual persons on the platform. We reconstructed the latter through the typology presented above and deduced the former from the analysis of the profiles selected in the asexual community. Although we are aware that these data are not representative of the universe examined, we synthesized them from a statistical point of view, intending to also verify the relationships between the socio-biographical traits collected and certain characteristics associated in the literature with asexual people.

On the distribution of gender identity and sexual orientation on the profiles sampled, 68% of users self-identify with a male gender identity and 20% with a female gender identity. It is worth noticing that there is a significant presence of people declaring a non-binary gender identity (about 12%). The same applies to sexual orientation: while the majority identify as heterosexual (73.5%) or homosexual (about 17%), there is no shortage of people identifying as non-binary or pansexual ( Table 1 ).

Distribution of the sample surveyed according to gender and sexual orientation.

This difference in the incidence of males over females could lend itself to multiple interpretations, depending also on the different ways in which Italian men and women relate to sexuality and the most widespread collective imaginaries connected to it (Corbisiero and Nocenzi, 2022 ). While it is true that the current hypersexualisation of society affects all genders indiscriminately, prescribing a sort of “obligatory” sexuality, this takes on different meanings in the sample examined, also due to the different socialization paths to gender and sexuality experienced by men and women (Masullo, 2021 ). For the former, sexuality is a core aspect of the acquisition of a “hegemonic” male gender identity—thus a compulsory step as proof of one's appropriateness in the execution of one's gender role. For the latter, instead, sexuality is characterized by a lesser “centrality” which, even in the online environment, still fails to find an adequate space of explicitness (Masullo, 2021 ). In the case of men, the absence of sexual desire can be experienced as a source of concern, not least because of social pressures. For women, this condition is less felt, as sexuality remains relegated to the idea of a stable relationship and in specific cultural environments still bound to the idea of reproduction. In this sense, the absence of sexual desire is experienced by women with less concern, as this condition is regarded as a normal aspect of the process of socialization to sexuality, and subordinate to the need to establish an emotionally satisfying relationship.

All the users in the community define themselves as asexual or question their sexuality as falling into this category Out of the 200 profiles surveyed during the period under consideration, about 54% identify themselves as “tout court” asexuals, what we called “traditional asexuality” (ACE in the literature). They are characterized by the total or partial absence of sexual desire but wish to establish an emotional and sentimental relationship ( Table 2 ). 32.5% of the profiles report total closure toward the other, lacking desire toward both sex and the need to establish a sentimental relationship, a condition defined as “Aromatic Asexual” (AroAce in the literature). Finally, 13.5 per cent of the users are unclear or uncertain about their identity: they show interest in sexuality or at least curiosity about it. This is true in both a hetero-directed and a self-directed sense. In the former case, for example, to accommodate the desires of a partner; in the latter, there is desire to experience certain practices such as sexting or cybersex). These people only partly fall within the category of asexuality—which, however, it is worth remembering, does not constitute a fixed identity but is subject to change and negotiation processes over time and in the spaces of online and offline sociality. Any attempt at classification would, therefore, prove inadequate, even if it is analytically valid when constructed to describe the phenomenon ( Table 2 ).

Distribution of the types of asexual persons.

Finally, we explore the distribution of the identified types in class age following the criterion of division defined by the ISTAT and longitudinal surveys on youth which in the Italian context consider to be young people between 18 and 34 years old (Toniolo, 2022 and previous annual reports). Those under 18 years old may be considered teenager and those above 35 adults.

By cross-referencing the reconstructed categories of asexual people with the age groups considered, we can highlight the generational distribution of the phenomenon examined, as shown in Table 3 .

Distribution by age cohorts of the types of asexual people.

Traditional Asexuals (ACE in the literature) are mainly those between 18 and 34 years old (68%) and under 17 years old (42%). For the younger age cohorts, sentimental aspects seem to be more important than for the later cohorts. This is also evident if one compares this with the Aromatic Asexual condition (AroACE in the literature) which is more concentrated among the over 55-year-old (75%) followed by the 35–54 year-old (59%). It can be hypothesized that for the latter cohorts, the condition of aromantic asexuality is the outcome of a progressive disinterest in sexuality following unsatisfactory experiences.

The condition of aromatic asexuality is also evident among the under 17-year-old group (40%). It could be a “comfort choice” to delay the creation of sentimental and sexual relationships to avoid disappointment, alleviate relational performance anxiety, or for subjective reasons that would require a more in-depth study with qualitative research approaches.

The more complexly defined “self-directed” and “hetero-directed” asexual profiles refer to hybrid conditions ranging from situations which express curiosity only for certain sexual practices (such as sexting or cybersex) to others marked by a total lack of interest in sexuality, which is practiced only under external pressures.

They are more common among the teenagers (under 17-year-old) and the young people between 18 and 34 year-old compared to other cohorts.

Although it is not the purpose of this article to analyse the characteristics associated with these age cohorts, the greater propensity toward hybrid profiles of the younger generations (meaning both those under 17 and those between 18 and 34 years of age) could be associated with the complex and nuanced stage of their life with multiple sexual and romantic attractions, which are rarely static but fluctuate throughout their lives (Porrovecchio, 2012 ; Savin-Williams, 2021 ). Although the data would need further investigation, it can be hypothesized that the greater propensity of these age cohorts to experiment could indicate that the choice of asexuality is only temporary, or linked to specific relationships, and it can hardly be framed within the asexual condition tout court as defined in the literature.

Discussion and conclusions

Limitations and potential of digital ethnographic research and considerations on its application to the field of sexuality studies.

The present study addressed asexual people and the processes of self-definition in the digital environment. The digital ethnographic research approach allowed us to explore some of the essential steps of the research design inspired by digital ethnography, highlighting the main techniques to employ, the dilemmas to resolve before commencing the fieldwork, and the types of analysis to carry out. The transposition of classical ethnographic techniques into the digital environment constitutes a resource for researchers who intend to explore phenomena concerning populations that are difficult to reach. Digital ethnography proves particularly suitable where such populations take on their specific connotation in digital spaces, as in the case considered here. Our research shows that, in the absence of a shared interpretation of asexuality, its definition results from the interaction with others, an intersubjective process occurring mainly in the digital environment and which has no place elsewhere. By offering the possibility of creating profiles, introducing and describing oneself, and commenting, the web community provides useful tools to arrive at a shared definition, create languages and socialize with them, and attribute meanings—the scripts of a digital subculture still in the making but with its specificities compared to others that make up the variegated LGBTQ+ universe. The study of the profiles, self-presentations and comments allowed us to explore how the asexual condition goes far beyond the question of sexual orientation, resulting instead from how people relate to a norm that sees sexuality as a “compulsory” step in the processes of gender and sex identification. It is no coincidence that in the web community examined, most of the users are men. For them, sex is the benchmark against which gender identity is socially tested. Asexuality can be seen as an indicator of a crisis of masculinity, a hypothesis that deserves future exploration with the help of other techniques and a larger sample.

The proposed typology of asexual persons highlights how the choice of asexuality is a process characterized by numerous ways of understanding sexuality and the desire for romantic relationships, marked by discontinuities more than endpoints. These subjective propensities depend on biographical, social, and imaginary experiences rather than natural predispositions or simplistic and essentialist readings of sexual identity. While this approach has its advantages, as highlighted by this case study, it is precisely within its framework that the concrete limitations to its application become apparent. The first refers to ethical issues, which directly call into question the role of the researcher and his positioning in the research field and the consequences produced by his representations. In the field of sexuality, in particular, critical approaches—such as postcolonial theory, feminist critique, and queer theory—have greatly emphasized the researcher as an interpreter of the Other/s, as a privileged observer who risks subordinating those being observed and described. The emphasis on reflexivity in social research makes it possible to understand how “meanings result from the interpretive negotiation occurring on the field between researchers and participating subjects as embedded subjects and producers of knowledge whose interactions (both in the field and through textual strategies) are filtered and constructed based on gender, sexuality, nationality, race and ethnicity, social class, age, and bodily ability” (Grassi et al., 2020 , p. 111). Guided by these concerns, we chose to declare ourselves as researchers to deepen some reflections stemming from what we observed and to respect the point of view of the natives as much as possible. We were, indeed, well aware that the readings produced without this confrontation could unleash multiple consequences on subjects who are already vulnerable, and therefore expose them to further processes of marginalization and exclusion. A further issue of digital ethnography is taking into account the peculiarities of an observation that takes place in a digital environment. We must consider the effect of the medium of communication which, unlike in the case of face-to-face observation, often does not allow researchers to go deeper into the characteristics of the subjects. By conducting in-depth research through “questioning” (that is, privately contacting some users and asking them for details and clarifications), we intended to make up for some of these gaps. The discontinuity, nevertheless, remains “unbridgeable” compared to traditional face-to-face ethnographic research—the main limitation to be taken into account when choosing this type of approach. The future of digital ethnographic research will thus lie in the way it manages to meet some of these challenges, which will depend both on the researchers' ability to combine different research techniques, and on the technological evolution of the tools proposed by the web society. The latter seems to be increasingly moving toward overcoming the differences between real and virtual, between research carried face-to-face or remotely.

Data availability statement

Ethics statement.

Ethical review and approval was not required for the study on human participants in accordance with the local legislation and institutional requirements. Written informed consent from the participants' legal guardian/next of kin was not required to participate in this study in accordance with the national legislation and the institutional requirements.

Author contributions

The whole research is a result of intense collaboration among the authors. In the final draft, GM wrote sections: Introduction, The digital ethnographic approach: Similarities and differences with the traditional ethnographic approach, Research design, and A typology of asexual people. MC wrote sections: The phenomenon of asexuality: A literature review and Following mainstream models: Emotional fragility and social pressures. The authors co-wrote section Discussion and conclusions. Both authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

1 Among the many definitions, we find: Cyber Ethnography (Morton, 2001 ), Ethnography of Virtual Spaces (Burrel, 2009 ), Virtual Ethnography (Hine, 2008 ), Internet Ethnography (Boyd, 2008 ), Ethnography on the Internet (Beaulieu, 2004 ), Internet-related ethnography (Postill and Pink, 2012 ); Webnography (Puri, 2007 ).

2 While some considerations and results are akin to those emerged from the previous research on the AVEN community (Delli Paoli and Masullo, 2022 ), we will not be making any comparison. The phenomenon of asexuality is here a case study to present the digital ethnographic approach and not the aim of the essay.

3 In order to preserve partecipants'anonimity we have used an alphanumerical code for each partecipant (ID * ). For the same reason, we have dropped out any socio-biographical information.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher's note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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ethnography case study differences

Applied Ethnography for Community Health Assessment: A Case Study on School Foods - Friday, March 1, 2024 - 12:00pm

In this talk, Dr. Fox will introduce what rapid/applied ethnography is, including the different types of methods that lend themselves to applied ethnography. She will then give an example of how students applied methods introduced in the course through the school food project, and what results came from it.

Master of Public Health Virtual Info Session

Core seminar series.

IMAGES

  1. Case study vs Ethnography

    ethnography case study differences

  2. Difference Between Ethnography and Phenomenology

    ethnography case study differences

  3. Case study vs Ethnography

    ethnography case study differences

  4. Ethnography vs. Action Research

    ethnography case study differences

  5. Case study vs Ethnography

    ethnography case study differences

  6. Case study vs Ethnography

    ethnography case study differences

VIDEO

  1. The concept of ethnography

  2. Ethnography study

  3. Ethnographic study on Malay Muslims in a US College

  4. key characteristics of Ethnography |Research Method of Psychology

  5. Week 3: Lecture 6. Case Studies: Research Question & Applying Ethnography

  6. Ethnography case study

COMMENTS

  1. Case Study vs. Ethnography

    One key difference between case study and ethnography lies in their scope and generalizability. Case studies are typically more focused and specific, aiming to provide detailed insights into a particular case or situation.

  2. (PDF) Comparing Case Study and Ethnography as ...

    This article reviews several differences between case study and ethnography in terms of definitions, characteristics, strengths and limitations. It provides current information by comparing...

  3. Difference Between Case Study and Ethnography

    The main difference between case study and ethnography is their focus; ethnography aims to explore cultural phenomenon whereas case studies aim to describe the nature of phenomena through a detailed investigation of individual cases. This article explains, 1. What is a Case Study - Definition, Features, Focus, Data Collection 2. What is Ethnography

  4. Difference between case study & ethnography

    1. The difference between a case study and ethnography is that ethnography is a study of a culture or ethnic group, while a case study investigates a particular instance, event, or individual. 2. Ethnography requires participant observation as a data collection method, while it is not necessary in a case study. 3.

  5. Case Study vs. Ethnography: What's the Difference?

    Sawaira Riaz Nov 22, 2023 10 A case study typically has a narrower focus, concentrating on a particular instance or scenario. Ethnography, in contrast, has a broader scope, aiming to capture the nuances of cultural practices and social interactions within a community. Harlon Moss Nov 22, 2023

  6. PDF Comparing Case Study and Ethnography as Qualitative Research ...

    Anne Suryani1 Abstract: This article reviews several differences between case study and ethnography in terms of definitions, characteristics, strengths and limitations. It provides current information by comparing these approaches from various social researchers' perspectives.

  7. Blending the Focused Ethnographic Method and Case Study Research

    In recent times, some controversy has arisen about whether ethnographic research could fit within the definition of case study research (CSR) ( Fusch et al. 2017; Parker-Jenkins 2018).This article is based on the idea that the definition and practice of current ethnography is sufficiently broad to allow it to be blended with CSR.

  8. Application of case study research and ethnography methods: Lessons

    Case studies are often used to gain an in-depth understanding of contemporary issues in their real-world context (Yin, 2018).They can be used to explain, describe, or explore patient care issues, which makes this research design particularly useful in healthcare (Anthony & Jack, 2009).Researchers have used case study design to examine various issues, including the delivery of low-cost ...

  9. Ethnographic Case Studies

    This research guide discusses ethnographic case study. While there is much debate over what, precisely, delimits a case study, the general consensus seems to be that ethnographic case studies differ from other types of case studies primarily in their focus, methodology, and duration. In essence, ethnographic case studies are case studies ...

  10. [PDF] Comparing Case Study and Ethnography as Qualitative Research

    1 Excerpt Digitally-Mediated Mothering: An Ethnography of Health and Parenting Groups on Facebook D. Wellstead Sociology 2020 In this paper, I apply sociological theories around boundaries and boundary-work to an internet ethnography of two contrasting Facebook groups - one focused on "science", and the other focused on… Expand 1 Highly Influenced

  11. Ethnographic and Case Study Approaches: Philosophical and

    Ethnographic and Case Study Approaches: Philosophical and Methodological Analysis DOI: Authors: Lusia Neti Harwati Brawijaya University Abstract In qualitative methods, there are various...

  12. PDF Five Qualitative Approaches to Inquiry

    phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, and case studies. For each approach, I pose a definition, briefly trace its history, explore types of stud-ies, introduce procedures involved in conducting a study, and indicate poten-tial challenges in using the approach. I also review some of the similarities and

  13. Is Microethnography an Ethnographic Case Study? and/or a mini

    This discussion will not only highlight the similarities and differences, but also elucidate any confusion that may exist given that these approaches have in common the term ethnography. Interested in knowing whether ethnographic case study, microethnography, and mini-ethnographic case study are similar research approaches, in the following ...

  14. Ethnography and Case Study: A Comparative Analysis

    The central difference between ethnography and case study lies in the study's intention. Ethnography is inward looking, aiming to uncover the tacit knowledge of culture participants. Case study is outward looking, aiming to delineate the nature of phenomena through detailed investigation of individual cases and their contexts.

  15. Comparative Ethnographic Narrative Analysis Method: Comparing Culture

    These multi-sited ethnographies tend to use a multi-site case study approach (Jenkins et al., 2018), which, in contrast to immersive ethnography, tends to collapse phenomenon to allow for comparison. Like Jenkins et al., we agree that there is a paucity of analytical guidance to support researchers in these approaches.

  16. What Is Ethnography?

    Revised on June 22, 2023. Ethnography is a type of qualitative research that involves immersing yourself in a particular community or organization to observe their behavior and interactions up close. The word "ethnography" also refers to the written report of the research that the ethnographer produces afterwards.

  17. PDF International Journal of Education & Literacy Studies

    Case study tends to follow the char-acteristics of ethnography in terms of reality observation. More specifically, a study conducted in Zhejiang Prov-ince, China and another from Wollongong, Australia have been selected to be reviewed. The reason behind this se-lection is based on the argument that both countries have cultural differences.

  18. Case Study vs. Ethnography

    A Case Study is an in-depth examination of a specific subject or entity, while Ethnography is the qualitative study of cultures and people in their natural environments. Difference Between Case Study and Ethnography Table of Contents ADVERTISEMENT Key Differences

  19. Ten tips for conducting focused ethnography in medical education

    Understanding the difference between traditional ethnography and focused ethnography (FE) will allow researchers to choose the appropriate form of ethnography in order to explore their research question rigorously. ... Ethical and effective ethnographic research methods: a case study with Afghan refugees in California. J Empir Res Hum Res ...

  20. Observation in Grounded Theory and Ethnography: What are the Differences?

    Apparently, observation in ethnography is like as grounded theory and the other qualitative studies but ethnography observers have more holistic views. In a way, Charmaz believes that the observer in the grounded theory, according to the objectives of the research, discusses the details of only one aspect of the research, whereas the observer ...

  21. Ethnography and case study: a comparative analysis

    The central difference between ethnography and case study lies in the study's intention. Ethnography is inward looking, aiming to uncover the tacit knowledge of culture participants. Case study is outward looking, aiming to delineate the nature of phenomena through detailed investigation of individual cases and their contexts.

  22. Case study and Ethnography

    21. The central difference between ethnography and case study lies in the study's intention. Ethnography is inward looking, aiming to uncover the tacit knowledge of culture participants. Case study is outward looking, aiming to delineate the nature of phenomena through detailed investigation of individual cases and their contexts.

  23. Potential and limitations of digital ethnographic research: A case

    Among the social research methods, ethnography is one of the most comprehensive tools available to researchers to reconstruct the visions, perspectives, imaginaries, beliefs, values, and practices that underpin a given culture (Masullo et al., 2020 ).

  24. Applied Ethnography for Community Health Assessment: A Case Study on

    In this talk, Dr. Fox will introduce what rapid/applied ethnography is, including the different types of methods that lend themselves to applied ethnography. She will then give an example of how students applied methods introduced in the course through the school food project, and what results came from it.