Fragments from an ethnographer’s field guide: Skepticism, thick minimalism, and big theory

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This article challenges Isaac Reed’s discussion of interpretation in the social sciences by honing in on the unique properties of ethnographic research and the relationship between ethnography and theory. What are the practicalities of using theory to structure ethnographic engagement and of developing maximal theoretical explanations from participant observation? This article first advocates establishing skepticism by searching out evidence to counteract our claims and identifying how our conclusions could have turned out otherwise. Second, ethnographers should specify thick minimal matches between what our concepts are and how they manifest themselves in thick description (often in a reformulated forms) in our field sites; and third, thick minimal matches can be made to facilitate big theory by re-signifying the evidence within a body of existing significations and within a community of scholars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46-56
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


  • conceptual development
  • ethnographic methodology
  • skepticism
  • theory
  • thick minimalism


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