Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Examining the Methods Used for a Critical Ethnographic Enquiry

Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Examining the Methods Used for a Critical Ethnographic Enquiry

Article excerpt


Ethnography, as an interpretive paradigm came to prominence in the 1900s through anthropological and sociological inquiry; however, in the 1960s, ethnography became emergent with health care studies especially in the medical and nursing arena. This re-emergence of ethnography as a suitable methodology for the health sciences provided humanism to describe and explain culturally specific phenomenon. Ethnography in this context was unable to determine political influences imputing, directing or preventing the phenomena under investigation. It was through the discourse of the Manchester (English) and Chicago (American) schools of eminent scholars debating this dilemma that Critical Ethnography was promoted, accepted and adopted by the emerging health research community.

Critical Ethnography delves beneath the surface to examine the power relations and influences affecting the phenomenon by using field methods to identify the culture, the 'consciousness' or the 'lived experiences' of others, exposing the political, social and material disempowerment of individuals and disadvantaged groups in order to elicit change (Street 1992: 12). It is the method which articulates the substance and credence of an inquiry through its procedural rules, though according to Brewer (2000) method and methodology are inextricably linked especially when adopting a qualitative ethnographic approach. The method articulated in this paper is based on a critical ethnographic inquiry conducted by the researcher titled 'Endof-life care and palliative care for aged persons within a residential multi-purpose service: A critical ethnographic study'.


Research extends, validates or provides new knowledge about a phenomenon, demonstrating its significance and scholarly value to peers and other interested parties. Scholarly inquiry first establishes the extent of the knowledge of the phenomenon under investigation prior to the commencement of the inquiry. Preliminary discussions and planning of where, when and how the study is to be conducted has to be determined preceding contact being made with the potential organisation, or holders of the subject material. Ethics approval was gained from the host university and the organisations ethics committee.


The justification for conducting an inquiry in a multi-purpose service (MPS) was that little is known about the provision or delivery of end-of-life and palliative care within these facilities. The researcher consulted the literature and found it devoid of research studies conducted in MPSs, or by clinicians providing services to/ for or on behalf of an MPS. The area of interest for the researchers is the delivery of end-of-life and palliative care, as recently the government through the national palliative care program introduced the publication Guidelines JOT a Palliative Approach in Residential Aged Care ('the Guidelines') (Australian Government Department of Health & Ageing 2004) with an expectation that all residential aged care units would adopt and implement these guidelines. The study will provide new knowledge relating to the structure of MPSs, their provision of nursing care delivered to residents of a cohort deemed disadvantaged (institutionalised) and vulnerable (aged persons), living in such a location.


It is the research question, which dictates the methodology; the theoretical and philosophical framework and therefore the method adopted for any inquiry (Denzin & Lincoln 2000; Minichiello et al. 2004; Polit & Beck 2004). The method is the structure and the process by which the inquiry is conducted; it provides the rigour and authenticity to the research findings allowing replication, scrutiny and validity. In more recent times nursing and medical research has been conducted to develop 'best practice' guidelines, informed by research inquiry (Taylor et al. …

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