The Wonders of Collaborative Ethnography

Another week, another blog!

This week’s blog will delve into the wonderful world of Collaborative Ethnography; examining what it is and how we can use it to analyse contemporary media usage within the home. So what is this wonderful term-Collaborative Ethnography? To understand this, we must first break it down.

Collaborative means to work together, which is a term used more so to describe joint-efforts amongst academics to research and/or answer theories. Ethnography “Is the art and science of describing a group or culture.” as put by David Fetterman (1998); Etho(s) derives from Greek meaning folk/people as does Graphein meaning writing. It is rooted within sociology and various other humanity theories.

To better understand how Collaborative Ethnography interacts and assists the study of contemporary media, The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography by Luke Lassiter helps break down this theory into relative terms. If you’re reading this blog right now looking like this-

Do Not Worry

By the end of it, hopefully (no promises) you will be looking more like this-

Look at that enthusiasm! He just found out his funeral expenses are covered by Real Insurance.

Firstly, Lassiter argues Ethnography “, by definition, collaborative.”, going on to argue that “In the communities in which we work, study, or practice, we cannot possibly carry out our unique craft without engaging others in the context of their real, everyday lives.” It is only with such mentality and willingness, Lassiter argues, that by “building on these collaborative relationships between the ethnographer and her or his interlocutors, we create our ethnographic texts.” 

Secondly, Lassiter states that the Collaborative Ethnographic “…process, sets up a model of exchange where one thing granted (e.g., an interview) yields an appropriate reciprocal response (e.g., help planting a garden)…(thus) implies constant mutual engagement at every step of the process. In other words, it implies what it says: collaboration.” 

Broken down further, Collaborative Ethnography is a combined (collaborated) effort to understand, research and/or study a specific group or culture that, through it’s collaborated methodology, expands to encompass greater research coverage and results. Basically a group of academics doing one big group assignment together. I am hoping this conversation has happened at least once within a collaborative ethnographic study-

Lassiter outlines the differing forms of collaborative ethnography-

  • Community-Based Research
  • Action Research
  • Participatory Research
  • Participatory Community Research

Another aspect that must be considered within collaborative ethnography Lassiter argues is that researchers must maintain the traditional ethics of ethnography; however they must remain evermore cautious that each researcher is maintaining these ethics within their fields, and too that each others work does not disrupt the collaborative pattern.

Now then, how is this applicable to analysing contemporary media usage within the home?

In this day and age, we are always connected to multiple devices and formats. Right now, whilst i type this blog on my laptop, my phone and iPad are next me providing numerous distractions, and just a moment ago I placed the TV on mute as it was interacting with my train of thought.

If say 400 UOW students, including myself, were to take part in a study analysing contemporary media usage, collaborative ethnography would allow researchers to streamline their research criteria to suit their hypothesis and results better. However, this type of methodology is qualitative within an area which prefers quantitative, especially within regards to usage-Numbers over Quality. 

An excellent example of this is the report The Impact Of Internet Use On Sociability by Nie and Hillygus (2002). They found that “the more time spent on the Internet at home, the less time spent with friends, family and on social activities.” However, this merely typecasts that if you spend time on the internet, you’re not being social or active enough. In regards to my generation and those forthcoming; being social is and can be being online.

Therefore, whilst numbers may state that 79% of teenagers spend more than 4 hours a day online, that is superficial on the topside. Whereas, if you employed collaborative ethnography to go deeper into that 79%, you will find various reasons behind that, further underlying the importance of qualitative findings that go beyond mere statistics.

Thus, can Collaborative Ethnography be used to analyse contemporary media usage in the home? Yes-but only if the results you receive match those that answer the hypothesis and theories surrounding such research in the first place. Each study, even if on the same topic, can produce 10000s of different findings, it is up to those who conduct these to implore that research ethics and reasoning are conducted each time. Thus, it is up to the purpose of each research study to decided whether collaborative ethnography suits it.

Stay Classy UOW,



Lassiter, L.E. 2005, The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethonography, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Nie, N.H., Hillygus, D.S. 2002, ‘The Impact of Internet Use on Sociability: Time-Diary Findings,’ IT&Society, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 01-20.


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