An introduction to the origins, history and principles of ethnography
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An introduction to the origins, history and principles of ethnography

Gemma Sinead Ryan Senior lecturer in health and social care (nursing), University of Derby Online Learning, Derby, England

Background Ethnography is embedded in the history of research and has been considered a methodology in its own right. Its long history means those new to ethnography may find it complex to navigate the differing perspectives and its historical context. Philosophical perspectives further compound the complexities of understanding and making decisions about method.

Aim To introduce the historical context of ethnography and its wide-ranging and differing perspectives.

Discussion This paper provides an overview of the historical context of ethnography and discusses the different approaches to ethnography based on philosophical paradigms. Examples of ethnographic research in nursing literature are used to illustrate how these different approaches and types of ethnography can be used in nursing.

Conclusion Ethnographic research has much to contribute to nursing knowledge. However, it is important to understand the philosophical influences when making decisions about research approach.

Implications for practice This article provides an overview of the historic context of ethnography and may improve the knowledge of nurses wishing to employ ethnographic approaches in their own post-graduate and doctoral research.

Nurse Researcher. 24, 4, 15-21. doi: 10.7748/nr.2017.e1470


Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated software

Conflict of interest

None declared

Received: 08 March 2016

Accepted: 06 October 2016

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