Ethnography is a description of peoples or cultures and involves the researcher going into the ˜field' to experience life with the chosen culture. Early anthropologists used ethnography to find out about societies different from their own, such as small ˜endangered' tribes in far off lands. As Denscombe, (1998, p68) explains:
"The image of the pitch-helmeted outsider dressed in khaki shorts arriving on the shores of some remote and exotic palm tree island to set up camp and study the lives of the ˜native' has become legendary.
More recently lifestyles within ˜our own' culture have been the focus. ˜Deviant' groups like drug users, and later, more banal aspects of social life such as ˜Life in classrooms' (Woods 1979) have been studied. Student life would stem from this recent study of routine life. It could also provide an element of contrast and comparison, as the student society at QMUC could be seen as ˜anthropologically strange' because it is likely to differ from the culture or lifestyle of the researcher or the readers of the study.
Ethnography is based on direct observation and could involve the researcher living with students at QMUC in the Halls of Residence to experience and share in their lives rather than watch from afar. The data, accumulated over a long period of time, can then yield a privileged insight that a less ˜hands on' method could not achieve. This method would also avoid the use of secondary data, like students' statements, that would not give the same quality or reliability of data.
Another advantage of ethnography lies in its empirical format. The researcher goes directly to students, or ˜straight from the horses mouth' to collect raw data.
Ethnography is useful because it places emphasis not on how the researcher sees those he observes but would focus on how the students at QMUC understand their own culture, how they perceive themselves and their lifestyles.