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Chicago School of Ethnography: Analytical Essay

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Analytical Essay

What is the Chicago school of ethnography? What are the specific research tools used by the Chicago school ethnographers? How would you differentiate this approach for “critical ethnography”? Which do you prefer and why?

Ethnography originated in the nineteenth-century, when some Western anthropologist wanted to use ethnography as a way to give a descriptive account of a culture or community. “Ethnography” was seen as a compliment to “ethnology”, which referred to the historic and relative study of non-Western cultures and communities. After a while anthropologist began to do their own work with ethnography and less work with ethnology. They wanted to discuss the mixing of first-hand empirical investigation and the theoretical and relative understanding of social organization and cultures. Ethnographic fieldwork has been central to anthropology

Embracing many concerns (urban decay, crime, race, and family) American sociologist working at the University of Chicago from the 1920’s to the 1950’s developed a method to studying human social life that was similar to anthropological research in some key respect. Using the city as a social laboratory, “The Chicago School” documented the different patterns of life to be found in the city, and how it was shaping the developing urban ecology. The research hewed official data from census reports, housing records, welfare records, crime figures and related data to the study they were conducting.

The Chicago School sought to developed a set of standard molds and themes in their works rather than follow the attributed process. Bringing great richness and depth to the Chicago works was qualitative methodologies, used in a naturalistic observation. An approach best suited for the study of urban and social phenomena, founded upon the existence of such variations in cultural patterns across and within societies, and their significance for understanding social processes. Retrieving access to the community may be needed by establishing relationships, having informal conversations, and individual or group interviews. These facts are collected by the Gathering of data from documentary material, cultural artifacts, diaries, letters, newspaper, photograph, population and sample surveys. Facts collected are regarded as theory neutral, it does not provide a conclusive test theory.

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Critical ethnography begins with a compelling sense of duty and commitment based on compassion for those who are suffering. Researchers feel an obligation to making changes for freedom and equity, finding hidden operations of power and control. Critical ethnography adds to independent information and talks of social justice. Explicitly considering how their own acts of domination represent the community and their situation critiquing the objectivity and subjectivity.

These methods can include those that are “unobtrusive” (Lee, 2000). There has been some dispute about whether ethnography studies can rely entirely on interview or documentary data, without complementary participant observation (Atkinson and Coffey, 2002). And, while combining different methods, for specific purposes, may be of worth it should not be at the expense of forgetting the importance of methodological ideas associated with ethnography.

These are difficult issues, and it would be hard to believe that all understanding is impossible. I prefer critical ethnography, because I want valid knowledge (hands-on)


  1. Atkinson, P. and Coffey, A. (2002) ‘Revisiting the relationship between participant observation and interviewing’, in Gubrium, J. F. and Holstein, J. A. (eds.) Handbook of Interview Research, Thousand Oaks CA, Sage.
  2. Atkinson, Paul and Hammersley, Martyn, 2007, 3rd ed. Ethnography: principles in practice. London; New York: Routledge.
  3. Lee, M. Raymond, 2000. Unobtrusive method in social research. Open University Press. Buckingham. Philadelphia.
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Chicago School of Ethnography: Analytical Essay. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
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