Ethnography vs. Ethnology

Difference Between Ethnography And Ethnology Ethnography Ethnography is a field of anthropological research based on direct observation of…

Difference Between Ethnography And Ethnology


Ethnography is a field of anthropological research based on direct observation of and reporting on a people’s way of life. As such, ethnography is the core method of cultural anthropology. Ethnographic subjects are usually cultural groups, such as communities, tribes, or dialect groups. However, classes or institutions within complex urban societies are also subjects of study. Ethnography consists of two phases: the process of observing and recording data, usually called fieldwork, followed by the preparation of a written description and analysis of the subject under study.

Originally, ethnographic studies often included random anecdotes and facts about so-called primitive peoples whose way of life was thought to be disappearing. As the field of anthropology became more professional, however, ethnography became more systematic, and ethnographers attempted to interrelate the various aspects of a way of life. In recent years ethnography has become more specialized. Sometimes it involves studying small segments of large societies or focuses on specific, practical, or theoretical problems in anthropology.

In conducting an ethnographic study, an anthropologist usually visits or lives for an extended period of time in a society that is not his or her own. The ethnographer’s research can then be used to test social scientific propositions, to add to the body of literature on human societies in general, and to inform others about the culture under observation—its workings and its problems. Ethnographic film is another form of documentation (see documentary film).


Ethnology, the comparative study of peoples and cultures. This term, which first came into use in the 19th century, has meant different things in different national traditions. In Britain it initially competed with anthropology to designate the new science of humankind. In France and Germany, in contrast, it was used to mean “the historical study of peoples” as distinct from anthropology, which referred to the study of humans as biological beings. Eventually the “Continental” sense of ethnology took hold in England and the United States as well, though in those countries anthropology referred more broadly to the study of humankind and thus encompassed ethnology, physical anthropology, and aspects of archaeology and linguistics. Ethnology should also be distinguished from ethnography, “the descriptive study of cultures.” The former is more comparative and theoretical, the latter more concerned with written representations of cultures.



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