Posted by: lindseynewkirk | May 6, 2014

Establishing Familiarity in Ethnographic Research

It’s not surprising that a researcher must induce a familiarity and affiliation amongst a research subject(s) in order to obtain the greatest opportunity to capture accurate data.  Lindlof and Bryan (2011) explain that a researcher must have intimate knowledge of a culture, be identified by the group as being “like me” or “my kind of member”, establish empathy, and generally assimilate into a cultural situation (Lindlof and Bryan, 2011, pg 142-143). This fully embraced absorption and solidarity is required to gain trust and ultimately establish an authentic experience that the researcher can witness.

Imagine a researcher from a multi-national agriculture conglomerate conducting ethnographic research in a community of family farmers. Or an American middle class white woman trying to assimilate into the culture of a community of disenfranchised Sudanese families living in a refugee camp. It’s unfortunate, because even the researcher with the biggest heart and best of intentions would not be able to create a successful research project in being so unlike the community of interest. As Lindlof and Bryan (2011) point out, there will always be some level of difference between researcher and group members. What is essential is to recognize which of the identities is most important to share in any given situation.

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