Overview Edit

Ethnography is the study of people and culture reflected through writings.

Definition and History Edit

As James Clifford and George E. Marcus puts it in their Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnographies, “ethnography is actively situated between powerful systems of meaning. It poses its questions at the boundaries of civilizations, cultures, classes, races, and genders. Ethnography decodes and recodes, telling the grounds of collective order and diversity, inclusion and exclusion” (pg. 2). Furthermore, anthropology is ethnography’s “parent discipline,” indicating ethnography has multiple disciplines and context. The concept of ethnography was first developed by Gerhard Friedrich Muller. (More information on ethnography can be found here)

Ethnography has increasingly become part of our education, mainly through poetry, in that Alison Phipps and Lesley Saunders stated, “in ethnography and education, [it is the] processes where we simply go for a walk together, then such language makes a travesty of the walk” (pg. 359). Referring to anthropology being ethnography’s “parent discipline,” Phipps and Saunders continues to explain that “anthropologists have long used poetry as a medium for expressing their sentiments and their sense of empathic connection to their field and their subjects…through the development of ethnographic poetics and the exploration of new artistic media… [it has] brought a rich vein of writing and expression into play” (pg. 360). Other mediums also reflects ethnography such as theatre, film, visual media, art, music, etc. Language too becomes part of expressing ethnography.

In terms of Writing Across Media, ethnography can be seen as subtly used. This can be seen in the Wysocki’s “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty” discussion. While its main focus was on aesthics, ethnography plays a role in determining how different cultures defines beauty differently. Similarly, Doren Massey on Space hints on ethnography playing a role in its political assembling of maps.

Examples Edit

Ethnography can be found in many literary works other than poems, such as Red Scarf Girl by Ji Li Jiang. Images also portray ethnography.

  • Example of ethnography in literary works
  • Images of ethnography

Key Terms Edit




Ethnographic Writing

Citations Edit

1. Phipps, Alison, and Lesley Saunders. "The sound of violets: the ethnographic potency of poetry?." Ethnography and Education 4.3 (2009): 357-387.

2. Clifford, James, and George E. Marcus, eds. Writing culture: The poetics and politics of ethnography. Univ of California Press, 1986.

3. "Red Scarf Girl a Memoir of the Cultural Revolution 1st. Ed. Ji-li Jiang ; Foreword by David Henry Hwang." Red Scarf Girl (Open Library). N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <>.

4. "Yale University." Yale Urban Ethnography Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <>.