The Handbook of Ethnography

By Coffey, Amanda; Atkinson, Paul et al. | Anthropologica, July 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Handbook of Ethnography


Coffey, Amanda, Atkinson, Paul, Delamont, Sara, Lofland, John, Lofland, Lyn, Anthropologica


Paul Atkinson, Amanda Coffey, Sara Delamont, John Lofland and Lyn Lofland (eds.), The Handbook of Ethnography, London: Sage, 2002, xviii + 507 pages.

Rather surprisingly The Handbook of Ethnography, edited by three British and two American sociologists, arrives hot on the heels of another sociological Handbook devoted to ethnography. This earlier one edited by Norman Denzin and Yvonna Lincoln is in its second edition (1994, 2000) and in the preparation stages for its third. Both handbook efforts are encyclopedic in their scope mainly featuring writings by sociologists and anthropologists, while the Atkinson et al volume also adds assorted other disciplines. While the earlier Handbook relies mainly on American scholars, the more recent volume claims that "international excellence was our primary criterion" (p. 1) for the selection of authors. The cast includes 21 British, 20 American and 2 each of Dutch, Finnish and Australian academies, comprising 31 sociologists, 9 anthropologists, 4 education scholars and one each from folklore, women's studies and the philosophy of science. seemingly aware that the comparison between the two handbooks would be unavoidable, the editors offer a critique of the earlier volume(s), indicating that their own intention is to distance themselves from "the five (six) moments model of Lincoln and Denzin" ... [which] "can do violence to the complexities of research and its historical development"... [such] a chronological, and linear view of development. . .is in danger of doing a disservice to earlier generations of ethnographers" (pp. 2-3). While these differences do not appear thunderous at first glance, reading all of the chapters leaves one with a clear sense of the strong support offered for the classic ethnography, not through proclaiming its familiar canons, but rather through displaying its multifaceted progeny, deep diversities, multiplicity of methods and broad applicability. Intriguing as the question of differences between the two parallel volumes may be, the Atkinson et al volume stands on its own as a worthy addition to the gargantuan growth in the discourses on ethnography.

The editors hope to present a "tour d'horizon of ethnographic methods and ethnographic research in the social sciences" (p. 1) in an undertaking that they readily agree is diffuse and beyond the ambitions of any single volume. To accomplish this they organize thirty-three diffuse chapters into three sections. The first section explores the origins of ethnography, various "intellectual and substantive contexts," differences in disciplinary and national orientations and seminal conceptual theoretical strands involved in ethnographic thinking. To meet these ends there are rich offerings on the Chicago school of ethnography (Mary Jo Deegan), the ethnographic roots of symbolic interactionism (Paul Rock), an overview of the ethnographic commitments of British social anthropology (Sharon Macdonald) and American cultural anthropology (James Faubion). To these are added the ethnography-centred works in community studies of various kinds (Lodewijk Brunt) and the less-well known fieldwork methods of the Mass-Observation studies of Britain (Liz Stanley). The section is rounded out by those theoretical and analytic propositions and assumptions that have come to be associated with ethnographic work-the Orientalism problematic, so much in the very fibre of anthropological thought (Julie Marcus), the basic contributions of phenomenology (Ilja Maso), ethnomethodology (MeMn Pollner and Robert Emerson), semiotics and semantics (Peter Manning) and grounded theory (Kathy Charmaz and Richard G. Mitchell).

The second section is devoted to "distinctive domains of ethnographic research," those locales where ethnographic work has contributed definitive knowledge or shaped the academic portrait of the cultures involved. These are the ethnographies of health and medicine (Michael Bloor), educational settings (Tuula Gordon, Janet Holland and Elina Lahehna), deviance (Dick Hobbs), science and technology (David Hess), childhood (Allison James), material culture (Christopher Tilley), cultural studies (Joost Van Loon), communication (Elizabeth Keating), work (Vicki Smith) and photography and film (Mike Ball and Greg Smith). …

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