Types & Challenges

Two main types of ethnography

For non-participant observation, the researcher tries to observe the subjects from distance without interaction, trying not to influence the social behaviour of the subjects.

For participant observation, the researcher builds direct relationship with the subjects by staying in the field, observing and describing the behaviour of the subjects. S/he even participates in daily activities of the subjects to make sense of the meanings embedded in the social practices of the subjects in a specific cultural context.



  • Researcher needs to interpret the ethnographic data from the perspective of the subjects that are studied, in particular, their language, in order to understand more fully their meanings.
  • Ethnography could be risky as researchers may not fully understand or be familiar with the social norms of those they are researching.

Challenges of involvement and detachment

Continuous involvement and detachment from the field could be challenging to researchers because:

  • They need to observe closely on the social life of their subjects as social actors;
  • They also need to stand back and interpret the data collected as social scientists

It is not easy to strike a balance between these two roles (Gobo, 2008).

Therefore, researchers need to be self-reflective by constantly reflecting on what they have observed and participated in by making notes and asking questions to prevent themselves from completely immersed in the field of study (Duranti, 1993).