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Ethnography: challenges and opportunities
  1. Janice Jones1,
  2. Joanna Smith2
  1. 1Institute of Vocational Learning, School of Health and Social Care, London South Bank University, London, UK
  2. 2Children’s Nursing, School of Healthcare, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Janice Jones, Institute of Vocational Learning, School of Health and Social Care, London South Bank University, London SE1 0AA, UK; jonesj33{at}

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Collectively qualitative research is a group of methodologies, with each approach offering a different lens though which to explore, understand, interpret or explain phenomena in real word contexts and settings. This article will provide an overview of one of the many qualitative approaches, ethnography, and its relevance to healthcare. We will use an exemplar based on a study that used participant-as-observer observation and follow-up interviews to explore how occupational therapists embed spirituality into everyday practice, and offer insights into the future directions of ethnography in response to increased globalisation and technological advances.

What is ethnography?

Qualitative research methodologies are inductive and focus on meaning; approaches are diverse with different purposes, reflecting differing ontological and epistemological underpinnings.1 With roots in sociology and anthropology, ethnography is one of the early qualitative approaches and is concerned with learning about people, in contrast to studying people, through immersion in native populations.2 3 Traditionally ethnography is characterised by in-depth observation of groups of individuals, being cognisant of the influences of historical and cultural contexts on social interactions.4 This process of immersion in the real world context and detailed analysis enables the researcher to discover and describe the complexities and shared cultural nuances of the social world, and to interpret the meaning of the phenomenon under investigation. Exploring health and care organisations at a macro level can …

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