Ethnographic Conversations are very informal interviews, very much led by the informant, who the ethnographer sees as being able to ‘impart wisdom’, rather than ‘confirm hypotheses’. Therefore, during an ethnographic conversation the ethnographer is not usually looking for specific information, rather the conversation informs the kinds of topics the researcher might want to start thinking about.
The researcher selects an informant – someone they think will trust them, has enough free time to talk to the researcher, and is motivated to contribute in this way. Informants should currently be a part of the group studied, and they need to have been a part of this group for a long time (this means you will get much more detailed responses from them). Informants can change with time if things aren’t working out, and they are very dependent on the individual style of the ethnographer – there is no ‘perfect’ informant, the relationship is very much based on personalities.
Key features of an ethnographic conversation:
- The researcher asks questions to the informant, but is led by them (ie. No leading, directive questions – encouraging them to continue talking, open questions, repeating back what they’ve said etc.)
- Conversations can happen in the environment, as and when they arise (they don’t have to be pre-arranged or under set time constrictions)
- Conversations can be recorded or notes taken during/after the conversation.
Ethnographic conversations are useful for triangulating data – how is the participant speaking to you as a ‘representative’ of their group. Do they speak differently to you than they do amongst themselves? Ethnographic conversations are a great way to follow up on interesting themes you have noticed through participant observation.
More information on conducting ethnographic conversations can be found here.