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Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Winter 2018: HOW DO I Find An Ethnography?

Your resource for doing research in anthropology.

Ethnography – The Writing Studio at Duke University

Definition of genre:

Ethnography is a genre of writing common in the social sciences, especially anthropology.

A comprehensive study of a culture, an ethnography informs its reader through narrative immersion, often using sensory detail and storytelling techniques alongside objective description and traditional interview style. Ethnography cuts a middle path between journalistic travel writing and traditional scientific objectivity, blurring the distinction between the two. Oftentimes ethnographers choose to use a first person perspective in their writing to acknowledge their presence as both observer and active participants in the culture they are studying. Ethnographic writing requires your presence on the scene: you can’t write an ethnography from the library or using Internet research (unless, of course, you’re collecting ethnographic data on those particular environments). It is not uncommon for ethnographic writing to tell the story of the research itself, beginning with the arrival of the ethnographer on the scene. Some ethnographies require years of immersion and fieldwork in a culture; others may be based on just a few hours of research. --  Thomas Writing Center, Duke University.

What is scholarly?


  • Disseminate research and academic discussion among professionals in a discipline.  
  • Journal such as Journal of  Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology.
  • Usually peer-reviewed or refereed.

Database Searching for Ethnographic Articles

The following article databases are good resources for finding article-length ethnographies and citations to your initial topic or research question.  Question most often asked of me:  How do you know what you find is an ethnography?  Answer:  This is where you must look at it.  Remember that many ethnographies do not have the word "ethnography" in the book titles and articles titles.

  • Use ethnograph*  OR ethnology -- research or case studies OR auto-ethnography in Academic Search Complete
  • Use ethnograph*  in SocINDEX with full text
  • Use ethnograph in JSTOR
  • Use ethnograph* in Race Relations Abstracts
  • Use ethnographin Wiley Online Library
  • Use autobiographical OR  Autoethnography in PsycINFO
  • Use ethnographic fieldwork in the abstract field
  • Use case studies or case study in the abstract field

The asterisk * is important because it will expand the term. For example:

  • ethnograph* finds materials with the words "ethnography", "ethnographic," "ethnographer,"  etc.

Keyword Searches in WorldCat Local (Book-length ethnograhies)

Smith Library Center subscribes to various databases that, when searched, will yield many articles and essays on a wide variety of topics that include inequality, poverty, race and ethnic relations, crime and violence, housing, health, and more. Articles are constantly added to these databases.  A keyword search will yield many academic articles and books.

You can find ethnographies in the WorldCat with a Keyword search.  However, many ethnographies DO NOT have the word "ethnography" in their titles, and if you ONLY do a keyword search expect to miss  sources you otherwise would have found.

Here are some hints:

  • Use the asterisk! The asterisk is important because it will expand the term. For example:
    • ethnograph* finds materials with the words "ethnography", "ethnographic", "ethnographer."
    • Navajo* will get you "Navajo" and "Navajos."
    • Nava*o* will also get you the alternative spelling of Navajo: Navaho.
  • Search for the name of the group AND ethnograph*. For Example:

                                 Inuit AND ethnograph*

  • Search for the aspect of the culture you want to research: Many ethnographies do not have the word "ethnography" in their titles, so it is also useful to do a keyword search combining the name of the group and the aspect of the culture being researched. For example:
  • Adapted from University of Arizona Libraries, How Do I Find an Ethnography?