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Ethnography of Christmas

Updated October 13, 2020
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Ethnography of Christmas essay

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Ethnography, “emerging from anthropology and adopted by Sociologists, is a qualitative methodology that lends itself to the study of the beliefs, social interactions, and behaviours of small societies involving participation and observation over a period of time, and the interpretation of the data collected” ( Denzin 1997).It provides meaningful information to inform the right decision on different issues(Denzin, 1997).

For example a business selling luxury cars may be suitable for big cities or industries than isolated villages to attract the best economically clients and facilitate the accessibility to the show. As the choice of good is influenced on one hand influenced by social capital that the individual’s economic and financial capability to buy provided by economic capital and on the other hand the social capital by the taste that is itself produced through ‘social capital acquisition’ in socialisation in the, family, community, education and cultural consumption habits ( Bourdieu 1984).

The choice of products to buy; car, food, drinks clothes are guided by the individual financial aptitude to afford and cultural norms and values about what is good, high value acceptable and bad or prohibited (Bourdieu 1984). Social structures like the family, a school or a work place function to produce a social control on the individuals lives and behaviour ; as an example shake hands for greetings is known as a good, friendly sign in a society whereas In other communities it is discouraged to stop spreading diseases what is true whereas the other community is not concerned with this issue( Merton 1996).

Epistemologically, social research aim is to find an ‘objective’ trustable knowledge. Hume and Lockey said that knowledge is founded on observations and experiences, but Bourdieu claims that the capacity to see ( voir) is a function of the knowledge ( savoir) because seeing objects informs curiosity and interest to know about the objects whereas Descartes consider human reason as the source of knowledge, people needs to think, use their imagination to acquire knowledge (Phylips 1987). Trustable knowledge should be objective “objective” opposed to subjectivity that carries negative connotations like own judgements and believes that interrupt with professionals like ethnographers works ( Phillips 1987).

In a world with evolving technology people tend to do ethnography research online, website, news, documentaries, video and social media and surveys where the participants observation is totally in cyberspace( Bryman, 2016) ; this is completely different to a real field ethnography, because they are lots of elements missing such as the body language, the place, the actors , subjects or objects around them that can influence their actions and reactions (Hammersley, 2010).

For example reflecting on the small ethnography research I conducted on a Liverpool Hope University student about Christmas rituals, a face to face interview includes careful observations, cues that can give a great meaning to the words: by observing a participant reaction that can be a smile, a gap between words, and a body language, facial expression, hands movement, gestures all count have a meaning.

Example:

“Question1: do you celebrate Christmas?
Answer: yes I do celebrate Christmas; the answer came quickly what meant they were used to the Christmas event celebration.
Question2: how do you prepare to celebrate?
Answer; …. Buy gifts, …decorations.., food
Question3: what Christmas means for you?
Answer: …celebration… religious
Question4: do you decorate your house inside and outside?
Answer: yes, I decorate my house inside not outside
Question4a: what are your preferred decorations?
Answer: .., Christmas tree … lights, stockings
Question5: what are these colourful clothes, costumes and decorations?
The bells, tree? Colours and shiny things? Christmas carol, Santa Claus? Mean to you?
Answer: they mean…, joy, green the tree…, no bells but the angels…, Santa Claus, the magic for the kids
Question7 what is the tradition of gift and presents means to you?
Answer: …, Give somebody, what they need, useful.
Question8: what do you thing about the spending on Christmas celebration?
Answer: Lots of spending, because it is a tradition to spend money on Christmas (skills workbook work)”.

Looking at the answers, and analysing the way they answered the question; It is visible that Christmas and its rituals meant a lot for the participant and their family. Anyone who belongs to this particular community shares these views. Those signs, the rituals, the excitement and the spending of money on particular food such as turkey, Brussels sprouts, Christmas pudding, do not mean anything for individuals from a different community. At the difference of other qualitative methods that mostly rely on interviews and surveys, ethnography has the advantage of combining interviews and participant’s observation acting and interacting together in an environment that produce trustable knowledge (Hammersley; M. 2010).

My research confronted a small ethical issue: the participant is a hope university student thus understood my work, kind of knowing what I am looking for and tried to give professional answers. As Christmas is a popular event I am used to, this helped me as a researcher to explore it , makes sense and becomes myself highly engaged in the conversation with the. Participants’ activities to( get a better ‘snapshot’ of the Christmas celebration in the participant family (Alvesson; skoeldberg 2000).

However it present some disadvantages relate to the time consumption because it takes time to socialise with the community and being able to observe them; and expenses associated whereas other research methods such online research, or self administered questionnaire involve less time and funding and are quickly completed (Phyllips 1987). The researcher writes field notes gained from their own observation of events and experience of belonging to the community from the acquired knowledge (Emerson et al 1995); .The field noted should be trustable, objective thus free of bias and owns views and believes also fulfilling strict control to make it safely usable to avoid subjectivity that is filled with researcher own believes or orientation. (Letherby; et al 2013).

To conclude ethnography is a reliable qualitative method that can produce good knowledge if it is conducted in respect of the required funding , time ; competent and experienced staff who can follow the rules and policies for best results.

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