from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The ethnographer Bronisław Malinowski with the Pacific Trobrianders (around 1918)

Ethnography or ethnography ( ancient Greek éthnos 'foreign people ' , graphé 'writing': “Völkerbeschreibung”) is a method of ethnology (ethnology) and superordinate to anthropology (human studies). As a systematic description of the knowledge gained through field research on site, impressions from the participant observation can also be recorded in writing.

An ethnography tries to describe and understand the coexistence, the social and political organization and the cultural characteristics of a separated society from the point of view of its members. In general, however, it is now a matter of dispute to what extent this is possible in principle. For example, the ethnologist Clifford Geertz in 1988 in his book The Artificial Wilds pointed out that there is no such thing as objective ethnography and that ethnographers create a fiction by depicting a strange world .

Independent of ethnology, sociology also developed ethnographic methods from the 1920s onwards, which, unlike ethnology, are carried out in their own society. Ethnographic research is therefore not limited to non-European societies and does not only consider individual ethnic groups or indigenous peoples . Smaller, multiethnic groups, the residents of a district, the staff in an office, the scientists in a laboratory or individual youth groups can also be the subject of sociological ethnographies (see also sociographies for the description of social facts).

The German sociologist Karl-Heinz Hillmann summarized in 1994: "The development of ethnography is closely linked to the broadening of the horizons of European social sciences as a result of ever new geographic discoveries and explorations through capitalist- colonial expansion and Christian missionary work ."

Ethnographic methods

From travel reports (e.g. from Georg Forster about the South Seas) to the use of digital media, there are various ethnographic methods of data collection (see also visual anthropology ), the best known are:

The application of ethnographic methods is not described uniformly in the literature. However, some similarities can be derived that are not rules, but recommendations. Bloomberg, Mosher, and Swenton-Hall set out four basic principles of ethnographic fieldwork in 1993 :

  1. Everyday life (natural settings) : Field research takes place in the natural living environment - the ethnographer does not consider people detached from their natural environment, but see them in their everyday environment.
  2. Holistic approach (holism) : The field research is based on the principle of holism. Individual behavior must be understood in its respective context - the ethnographer tries to include all factors that could influence the problem to be investigated into the consideration (objects, people, courses of action).
  3. Descriptive (descriptive) : The ethnographic research developed descriptive understanding unlike verordnetem - that the ethnographer must always be objective (see thick description : theoretical concept for anthropological understanding of culture).
  4. Participant observation (member's point-of-view) : The ethnographic research is based on the point of view of the members - the ethnographer must integrate into the group to be observed in order to see the world through the eyes of the group members (the personal evaluation scheme must be pushed aside become).


  • in software development to determine user needs: software ergonomists use ethnographic methods with the aim of changing and improving computer support (compare Simonsen, Kensing, 1997)
  • in market research to develop detailed consumer behavior (influence of personal values ​​on brand loyalty, influence of lifestyle on consumer needs), mainly used by institutes oriented towards market psychology (e.g. Sinus Sociovision, Spiegel Institute)
  • in social pedagogy and milieu studies to investigate social groups and their behavioral patterns

Ethnographic museums

Helmets and knives from Alaska (18th / 19th century) in the St. Petersburg Kunstkammer

Already in the art and wonder chambers of the Renaissance princes of the 16th century, exotic objects were popular, which came to Europe through the trips of explorers such as John Tradescant the Younger . Since the 18th century, they have been collected, systematized and exhibited in a targeted manner, increasingly also by private individuals. This also increased the understanding of their cultural significance. It was not until the 1930s that the understanding grew that one could only inadequately approach a culture through object research alone.

Many of the ethnographic museums that arose during the colonial era are called "Ethnographic Museum" or have an "ethnographic collection" of objects from foreign peoples, which - formerly supplemented by dioramas of everyday life, today supplemented by more authentic audio and video recordings - also provide an insight into the intangible culture and behavior give (see list of museums of ethnology ).

History of ethnography

Records about foreign cultures have been known since antiquity, in today's usage ethnographies (descriptions of peoples). Even the histories of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus from the 5th century BC About Libya , Syria , Babylonia , Macedonia and the Black Sea areas can be viewed as early ethnographic texts which, in addition to the historical events before and from the time of the Persian Wars, reflect local conditions, laws, social systems, beliefs and the appearance of the The inhabitants portray, even if he often refers to dubious and often mythical sources.

Methodologically demanding and reflective, Bernardino de Sahagún was the first to conduct his field research 1558–1575 on the declining culture, language and religion of the Aztecs , even if his work was primarily aimed at proselytizing. His Codex Florentinus is considered to be groundbreaking for later ethnography.

Aztec ceremony from the Codex Florentinus

Ethnography as an independent science emerged in the German and Russian Enlightenment. The historian Gerhard Friedrich Müller (1705–1783) can be regarded as the founder of ethnography . Müller carried out historical, geographical, ethnographic and linguistic research in Siberia on behalf of the Russian Tsarina Catherine II (1729–1796) as a participant in the Second Kamchatka Expedition (1733–1743). He formulated a program for the description of the Siberian peoples, which he referred to in 1740 as "Peoples Description". Müller put this program into practice with others during the expedition. The natural objects and artefacts they collected were archived in the Imperial Art Chamber (founded in Saint Petersburg in 1714 ) . After the expedition, Müller referred to Joseph-François Lafitau's comparative objectives and developed a program for the “description of the Siberian peoples” with the aim of comparing them with one another and with peoples from other parts of the world. Müller is at the beginning of a new tradition, ethnography. He saw this science as a separate discipline alongside his two majors, history and geography. The word ethnographia itself seems to be a word creation (1767) by Johann Friedrich Schöpperlin (1732–1772).

The historian August Ludwig Schlözer (1735–1809) formulated a general “ethnology” in Göttingen from 1771–1772 and devised an “ethnographic method” of history. Göttingen had connections with Russia and Eastern Europe as well as with England and was u. a. through the collecting activities of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach to the center of the new science.

Modern ethnography no longer has much in common with colonial ethnography , which usually looked at entire groups of peoples. Today it is mostly small groups , which often form purpose communities , that are examined. This makes ethnography a descriptive auxiliary science of sociology and cultural anthropology . Many ethnographic studies are also carried out for economic reasons, above all to increase productivity, improve and change products (see also industrial anthropology and for marketing purposes ).

From the ethnography, the different ethnology through their more theoretical and generalist orientation.

See also


  • Clifford Geertz : The artificial savages. The anthropologist as a writer. Fischer, Frankfurt 1993, ISBN 3-596-11279-6 (Original 1988: Works and Lives ).
  • Tim Ingold: Anthropology is Not Ethnography. Radcliffe-Brown Lecture in Social Anthropology. In: Proceedings of the British Academy. Volume 154, London 2008, pp. 69–92 (two-part lecture; PDF file; 94 kB; 24 pages on
  • Marcus Köhler: "Description of peoples". The ethnographic method of Georg Wilhelm Steller (1709–1746) in the context of the development of the “Russian” ėtnografija. VDM, Saarbrücken 2008, ISBN 978-3-639-02427-2 (on demand).
  • Klaus E. Müller : History of ancient ethnography and ethnological theory formation. 2 volumes. Wiesbaden 1972–1980.
  • Han F. Vermeulen : Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln / London 2015, ISBN 978-0-8032-5542-5 .
  • Michael Dellwing Michael and Robert Prus: Introduction to Interactionist Ethnography. Sociology in the field . VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2012 ISBN 978-3-531-94265-0

Classical ethnographies:

  • Edward E. Evans-Pritchard : Witchcraft, Oracle, and Magic among the Zande. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1978, ISBN 3-518-06407-X (Original 1937: Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande ).
  • Clifford Geertz : "Deep Play". Comments on the Balinese cockfight. In: Same: Dense Description. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1978, ISBN 3-518-28296-4 , pp. 202-260 (Original 1973: Thick Description. Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture )
  • Edmund Leach : Political Systems of Highland Burma. Athlone, London 1970, ISBN 0-485-19644-1 (first published in 1954).
  • Claude Lévi-Strauss : Sad Tropics . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1978, ISBN 3-518-27840-1 (Original 1955: Tristes tropiques ).
  • Bronisław Malinowski : Argonauts of the Western Pacific. Syndikat, Frankfurt 1979, ISBN 3-8108-0068-6 (Original 1922: Argonauts of the Western Pacific ).
  • Bronisław Malinowski: Coral gardens and their magic. Syndikat, Frankfurt 1981, ISBN 3-8108-0172-0 (Original 1935: Coral Gardens and Their Magic ).
  • Margaret Mead : Youth and Sexuality in Primitive Societies. Volume 1: Childhood and Adolescence in Samoa. dtv, Munich 1970, ISBN 3-423-04032-7 (Original 1928: Coming of Age in Samoa )
  • L. Trüdinger: Studies on the history of the Greco-Roman ethnography. Basel 1918.
  • William Foote Whyte : The Street Corner Society. The social structure of an Italian quarter. Gruyter, Berlin, ISBN 3-11-012259-6 (Original 1943: Street Corner Society ).

Web links

Commons : Ethnography  - Images and Media Files
Commons : Ethnographic Museums  - Images and Media Files
Wiktionary: Ethnography  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Karl-Heinz Hillmann : Ethnography. In: The same: Dictionary of Sociology (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 410). 4th, revised and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1994, ISBN 3-520-41004-4 .
  2. Jeanette Bloomberg et al. a .: Ethnographic Field Methods and their Relation to Design. In: Douglas Schuler (Ed.): Participatory Design: Principles and Practices. Erlbaum, Hillsdale 1993, ISBN 0-8058-0951-1 , pp. 123-155 ( abstract ).
  3. Homepage:
  4. Homepage:
  5. Jürgen Zwernemann (Ed.): The future of the Völkerkundemuseum: Results of a symposium of the Hamburg Museum for Völkerkunde. Münster: Lit, 1991.
  6. Han F. Vermeulen: Early History of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment , p. 199. Leiden, 2008.
  7. Han F. Vermeulen : Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln / London 2015, ISBN 978-0-8032-5542-5 .