Defining the Subject of Research in Ethnography

19 Apr

An interdisciplinary research approach matrix has been suggested by Bose (2012, p. 287). It provides insight into how different research questions may demand different approaches in terms of research traditions/contexts, data sources, and method. Bose provides examples of three different questions relating to migration in the table below. Part of the importance of such clarity in research migration is simply pragmatic: such research, particularly if comparative, is highly demanding of time and resources. As Blomenraad reminds us, “How to compare involves decisions about which specific cases one chooses: Kenyan migrants or Peruvians? Amsterdam or San Francisco? Such decisions are also choices about the comparative logics that will drive the analysis and the type of conversation the research wants to have with existing theory. Practicalities – including constraints on money, time, the researcher’s ability to speak certain languages, and other factors – often means that choices over ‘what sort’ of cases and ‘which specific’ cases intersect. Nonetheless, good comparative designs rest on smart choices about comparative logics” (559). This kind of pragmatism is also visible in respondent-driven methods and snowball-sampling common in ethnographic research, particularly among potentially marginalised communities (Browne, 2005).

Research question(s) Research traditions Data sources Methods
Is there a relationship between Indian Bengali diasporas and urbanization in contemporary Kolkata? Political economyCultural studies

Urban geography

Planning documentsHousing developers

City and regional planners

Construction workers

Diaspora members

Government documents

Advertising, television, film, news media, and literature

Secondary literature

Census information

National and international financial statistics

Semi-structured interviewsKey informant interviews

Focus groups


Critical textual analysis

Participant observation

What is the impact of international development on population displacement? Development studiesPolitical philosophy

Economic geography

Project plannersProject-affected persons

Government documents

NGO publications


Project reports

Secondary literature

Semi-structured interviewsKey informant interviews

Case studies

What is the experience of refugees with transportation in Vermont? SociologyAnthropology

Transportation geography

Census informationGovernment documents

Government statistics


Service Providers

Newspaper reports

Key-informant interviewsSurveys

Focus groups

Participant observation



Bloemraad I, (2013). “Comparative methodologies in the study of migration” in S.J. Gold & J. Nawyn (eds) The Routledge Handbook of Migration Studies London and NY: Routledge 553-563.

Bose, P.S. (2012), “Mapping movements: interdisciplinary approaches to migration research”, in C. Vargos-Silva (ed), Handbook of Research Methods in Migration, Cheltenham, UK & Massachusetts, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 273-294.

Browne, K. (2005),”Snowball sampling: using social networks to research non-heterosexual women”, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 8 (47-60), 1464-5300.


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