Social Research Center

Ethnography

Ethnography, the scientific study of people and their cultures, has a long tradition in anthropology and sociology with more recent applications in numerous fields. It focuses more on learning and modeling the point of view of a particular group than it does on testing a formal hypothesis. Agar (2006) states, “Ethnography names an epistemology – a way of knowing and a kind of knowledge that results – rather than a recipe or a particular focus.” Ethnography is often accomplished by employing multiple methods of study, including participant observation in real-life settings, conversations or in-depth interviews, journaling, field notes, and the review of documents by or about the people/site of interest.

Ethnographic research has been an important component in several SRC research studies. For example, an early study by founder David Nurco examined changing patterns of heroin use over a twenty year period. Another study used a combination of ethnography and epidemiological analysis to investigate and explain illicit drug epidemics. Recently, an ethnographic approach was used in understanding adolescent treatment approaches and the variation among the youth they served. Currently, ethnography informs a NIDA-funded study on entry and engagement in methadone treatment among adults by focusing on their biographical trajectories as compared with others who remain outside the treatment system.

FRI scientists currently working within this field include the following:

Lead Scientists Shannon Gwin Mitchell, Ph.D.