Analysing Findings in Ethnographic Research
As previously mentioned, ethnography is a research approach and the way in which research is carried out as well as its outcomes often appear as an academic essay combining research steps, analysis and interpretations of findings (Sabar-Ben Yehoshua 2016; Shlasky and Alpert 2007).
Ethnography as a means of research enables in-depth observation of human, social and organizational aspects arising from collated findings. It enables detailed analysis not only of these qualities, but processes as well (Genzuk 2003; Harvey and Myers 1995). Once the process of data collection is complete, researchers analyse their findings, making every effort to reach a comprehensive understanding of the world under investigation and provide scientific interpretation to collated findings (Karnieli 2008). Researchers provide elucidation for behaviours and events by detailing their significance as they understand them. In ethnographic research, it is not possible to encode information during the research or decide in advance how to categorize information (Genzuk 2003; Reeves et al. 2008). Structure emerges while analysing data and identifying findings as they emerge from the research.
At the stage of data analysis and reaching conclusions, researchers should pay attention to their experiences, thoughts and emotions and understand that they do affect their interpretations, conclusions and research outcomes (Shlasky and Alpert 2007). They are confronted with a wealth of findings, piles of texts, documents and records and they have to identify connecting strands that will enable them to construct significance and interpretations, a process that demands emotion and intellectual abilities (Harvey and Myers 1995; Reeves et al. 2008).
When analysing data, researchers must consider a great many different components that emerge, distinguish between events in different contexts, and identify the similarities and disparities between them. Using a number of research tools contributes to a broad understanding of studied phenomena and possible contradiction between participants’ actions and what they say about or explain these actions. Relating to many findings enables development and identification of significant broad and generic conclusions and insights. Identifying themes and their categories within these findings surface key subjects and enable provision of theoretical explanations, identification of phenomena and arriving at generic conclusions, which are likely to be significant for the studied body of knowledge (Reeves et al. 2008).
This way of analysing findings is based on researchers’ perceptions and how they observe matters from the outside and how they interpret them. This approach, known in the world of ethnography as the etic approach, allows researchers to clarify and interpret matters as they understand them from the point of view of a person outside the research field. Researchers’ interpretations are based on research, scientific and universal aspects and serve as theoretical models to illustrate, explain and provide insights (Harris 1976; Shkedi 2003; Shlasky and Alpert 2007).
In analysing findings and providing interpretations, researchers emphasize their internal world, their world views, points of view and insights of people who operated within the research field, and present them as part of their research’s output. This approach, known in the world of ethnography as the emic approach presents people’s subjective points of view and their self-perceptions and as such enables an understanding of matters as they themselves see and understand them. This approach enables exposure of how people interpret and relate to their culture, their beliefs, their behaviours, their lives, events that take place and their relationships with others.
Work on the final product of research, the researcher will connect emic issues arising from subjective perspectives and etic issues arising from external perspectives, so as to consolidate them into one research whole (Harris 1976; Olive 2014; Shkedi 2003).
In summary, the characteristics of ethnographic research enable its presentation as a diagnostic, as a microcosm of knowledge on a subject, and turn this knowledge into generic and recursive knowledge. Collecting information on real situations that took place in complex realities of social, cultural and political cultures as they are, makes it possible to reach conclusions, construct a developing body of knowledge and contribute directly to existing practical knowledge (Harvey and Myers 1995). Ethnography presents an opportunity to conduct meticulous research directed at the relevance of practice, which makes it an appropriate tool to link between scientific and practical knowledge, and to enable them to exist cooperatively:
This makes the ethnographic approach a worthy contender for bridging the gap between scholarly knowledge and practical knowledge, thus allowing for scholarship and practice to develop in collaborative coexistence (Harvey and Myers 1995, p. 24).
Analysing the unique experiences of a veteran teacher educator was carried out with the intention of deriving important insights from her personal experiences that would benefit her colleagues, both in teacher education and the accumulated body of research knowledge in this profession. Research characterized analysis of experiences produce conclusions that both other teacher educators and the system of teacher education can use, and as such the research, which is a type of socio-cultural academic experience, becomes generic knowledge that everyone can use.