The Analytic Lenses of Ethnography

Colin Jerolmack, Shamus Khan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


It is almost axiomatic that there are two contrasting theoretical approaches to ethnography: induction and deduction. However, regardless of whether ethnographers build theory from observations (induction) or use observations to test theory (deduction), they approach the field armed with one or more particular analytic lens that leads them to focus on a distinct thread of the social fabric. We outline the suite of analytic lenses that typify ethnography and identify eight ideal types. Though not mutually exclusive, they can be usefully grouped and contrasted accordingly: (1) the level of explanation: micro, organizational, and macro; (2) the subject of explanation: people and places and mechanisms; (3) the location of explanation: dispositions and situations; and (4) reflexivity. We specify the basic modes of analysis that typify each ideal type, trace their implications for how one selects units of observation, and demonstrate how these different ethnographic styles illuminate different dimensions of the social world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


  • ethnography
  • methods


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