Relational ethnography

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264 Scopus citations


All matters related to ethnography flow from a decision that originates at the very beginning of the research process-the selection of the basic object of analysis-and yet fieldworkers pay scant attention to this crucial task. As a result, most take as their starting point bounded entities delimited by location or social classification and in so doing restrict the kinds of arguments available to them. This article presents the alternative of relational ethnography. Relational ethnography involves studying fields rather than places, boundaries rather than bounded groups, processes rather than processed people, and cultural conflict rather than group culture. While this approach comes with its own set of challenges, it offers an ethnographic method that works with the relational and processual nature of social reality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)547-579
Number of pages33
JournalTheory and Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Ethnography
  • Object of analysis
  • Philosophy of science
  • Relational sociology


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