IB Cultural Anthropology/The Ethnographies/How to Read an Ethnography

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An ethnography is usually a book that studies a particular culture in depth. Ethnographies do not necessarily need to be books, however- they can also be films.

Steps to reading ethnography[edit]

  1. Find the interpretation.
    • Separate the interpretation from the description
  2. Examine the selection of data.
    • What did the anthropologist spend the most time on?
  3. Examine the theoretical framework the ethnography is working within.
  4. Find the fundamental questions the ethnography is trying to answer.
    • These are usually provided in the introduction or first chapter.
  5. Examine the organization of the ethnography.

Interpretation vs. Description[edit]

An example of the difference between description and interpretation is as follows:

Examine the “wink.”


A description of a wink would be: blinking one eye. This, however, is hardly satisfying.


Interpretation of this data would show that winking is a gesture that indicates:

  • Joviality
  • Flirting
  • Knowing
  • Other emotions

This would provide a much more thorough understanding of what a “wink” really is.

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