Ethnography and Case Study: A Comparative Analysis

By Cohen, Arie; Deborah | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Ethnography and Case Study: A Comparative Analysis


Cohen, Arie, Deborah, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

The purpose of the present paper is to describe the unique characteristics of ethnographic and case study research. The central difference between ethnography and case study lies in the study's intention. Ethnography is inward looking, aiming to uncover the tacit knowledge of culture participants. Case study is outward looking, aiming to delineate the nature of phenomena through detailed investigation of individual cases and their contexts. Some practical and theoretical applications of case study research are described. The comparative analysis of ethnography and case study is developed with illustrative examples from education, psychology, and sociology.

**********

A recurring theme of student questions in our graduate classes on qualitative research methodologies involves the differences between types of qualitative research. We describe ethnography, case study, narrative, phenomenology, and action research as qualitative frameworks that use common data collection methods but are distinguishable according to individual characteristics. Nevertheless, the distinction between these qualitative approaches is not so apparent. The most poorly understood term seems to be 'ethnography'. Ogbu, Sato and Kim (1997) attribute the confusion and the misuse of the term 'ethnography' to the sudden rise in the employment of ethnographic methods as a fad in educational research.

Regardless of the reason for the confusion, the most difficult distinction for our students is that between 'ethnography' and 'case study'. Ethnography centers on culture (but so can a case study); case studies investigate an instance of some phenomenon in depth, in order to shed light on the phenomenon (but some ethnographies seem to do this, too). In an ethnographic study, the researcher does in-depth investigation of a unit--be it a tribe, a street gang, or a classroom. In a case study, the researcher may study one individual, but the 'case' may also be a tribe, a street gang, a classroom, or a society. The terms ethnography and case study are used almost interchangeably in many social science research journals. Taft (1997), in fact, discusses ethnography as a case study method (p. 74).

In view of the confusion between these terms, we will attempt to explore the various aspects of ethnography and case study, to elaborate on their boundaries, and to offer a distinction between them.

Ethnography

Ethnography is defined concisely by Fetterman (1998) as "the art and science of describing a group or culture (p.1)." Goetz and LeCompte (1984) say that ethnographies are "analytic descriptions or reconstructions of intact cultural scenes and groups ... (that) recreate for the reader the shared beliefs, practices, artifacts, folk knowledge and behaviors of some group of people" (p.2). Ethnography describes the behaviors, values, beliefs, and practices of the participants in a given cultural setting. However, as Wolcott (1985) writes in his classic article on ethnographic intent, description is not enough to constitute ethnography because "Culture is not lying about, waiting patiently to be discovered; rather, it must be inferred from the words, and actions of members of the group under study ... (p. 192)." Ethnography involves cultural analysis. Analyzing a culture means not simply recounting behaviors and events, but inferring the cultural roles that guide behaviors and events. The intention of ethnography is to capture the everyday, the unwritten laws, conventions and customs that govern the behavior of persons and sub-groups within a culture. Patton (1990) sets a more ambitious challenge for ethnography. He claims that an ethnomethodologist needs to "elucidate what a complete stranger would have to learn to become a routinely functioning member of a group, a program, or a culture" (p. 74). In order to accomplish this goal, Patton argues, the researcher should not be satisfied with in-depth interviews and observations but should perform "ethnomethodological experiments" that "violate the scene" or purposely "shake up" the taken for granted behaviors in that culture, in order to illuminate the roles that lie beneath behavior. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Ethnography and Case Study: A Comparative Analysis
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.