Ethnography for Education
By Christopher Pole & Marlene Morrison London, UK: Open University Press, McGraw Hill Education, 2003
180 pp., ISBN 0 335 20600 X (pb), 0 335 20601 8 (hb)
Ethnography has by many estimates been the most popular approach to qualitative educational research in the last ten to fifteen years. This attraction to the methodology transcends the boundaries of North America and Europe. With the growing popularity of the methodology has come a spate of books purporting to provide practical guides to graduate students and new researchers in the field of education. Despite the number of volumes and the increase in the use of the methodology there still remains significant confusion and controversy surrounding such issues as the definition of ethnography.
As Atkinson and Hammersley (2000) point out, for example, ethnography for some "refers to a philosophical paradigm to which one makes a total commitment (while) for others it designates a method that one uses as and when appropriate" (p.248). There are also positions between these extremes. Some have even used the term synonymously with qualitative research (Hammersley, 1990). This confusion is not the only one. Atkinson and Hammersley also point to such other controversial issues involving the textual character of ethnography and the problems of representation and authority associated with that needs to be clarified.
Ethnography for Education is one of a series of books on doing qualitative research in educational settings edited by Pat Sikes. Written by two British authors, one a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at University of Leicester and the other a Reader in Educational Leadership at University of Lincoln, the book makes four claims. It claims that it features
** A thorough discussion of definitions of ethnography and its potential for use within educational research;
** Critical introductions to the principal approaches to ethnography;
** Discussions of data analysis and representation and of the challenges facing ethnography; and
** Use of educational examples from real research projects. (Back cover)
These claims if they had been substantiated would make the volume an excellent resource for qualitative researchers in the social sciences. It is these claims as well as other features that I will examine in reviewing this book. The book is divided into three major sections: definitions, approaches, and data analysis. Each section is discussed below.