Collaborative Ethnography


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Photo: The Enterprisers Project

By employing the use of collaborative ethnography, research becomes more comprehensive as the collaboration of researchers and participants delves into experiences and social contexts of the participants.

Lassiter (2005) defines collaborative ethnography as the re-situation of collaborative processes at every stage of the ethnographic research practice, positioning the collaboration ‘centre-stage’, rather than in the background.

‘Collaborative ethnography pulls together threads of collaboration between ethnographers and their consultants that have found their way into ethnographic field methods and writing.’ – Lassiter (2005)

When discussing our collaborative ethnographic approach to audience research in small groups during this week’s tutorial, we were able to identify common themes, strengths and weaknesses. Some of the themes identified include the discussion of television being black-and-white, their size, affordability, accessibility and quality. The differences we encountered, however, were the ways in which the question about childhood memories of television were perceived and answered – their way of remembering varied. Some recalled specific TV shows while others could only recall events, or simply just the way they looked (big, bulky, black-and-white, in case you hadn’t already heard).

My mum instantly piped up with information about her memory of the first moon landing, whilst my step-dad sat quietly, barely contributing. “I don’t remember much,’ he said as he continued eating.

Meanwhile, Virginia’s conversation with her Pop was less about the actual television and more about the emotions and excitement associated with it:

‘When my Pop found out his family had bought a television when he was a teenager, his excitement seemed to get the better of him and thus he decided to run home to see this new piece of technology that now graced his home. But upon running up the front steps, he tripped and tore two of his toenails off.’

Christopher’s family’s response was more superficial initially, recounting the size, shape, and antennae. It wasn’t until he posed a question connecting television to family that he gained a more purposeful response.

‘But with this more personal outlook, I noticed the focus moved further away from history and more into subjectivity. And consequently, I must make a confession: there wasn’t much historical insight to be spoken of. Much of the interview was made up of tangents and ramblings on life surrounding television.’

Thus, the use of collaborative ethnography looked at the subject looked more holistically. There are many strengths to this approach, such as the time needed to complete this research (not much), a variety of responses were gained, with many creating opportunities for further research.

However, the usefulness of the responses cannot be gauged. We all asked the same (or very similar) questions and gained a wide array of answers from people of different age groups. Some had lots of material to work with while others struggled, giving short answers which lacked substance. This research method therefore has the potential to be useful and educational but gaining an extensive or useful response can be challenging. The research method can therefore be inconsistent in its information gain.



Lassiter, L. (2005). The Chicago guide to collaborative ethnography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


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