An ethnographer is a person who gathers and records data about human culture and societies. There are various research methods that can be applied to the different sub-categories of this social study, such as field, design or visual ethnography. An ethnographer often needs to be able to find patterns in and understand issues faced by a wide sample of people with diverse backgrounds.
Ethnography is a field that is closely linked to cultural anthropology. The latter treats human society as a field of science, while the former usually mainly involves direct interaction with people. An ethnographer can work in various areas, such as geography, education, linguistics, economics and social work. The information ethnographers collect can be used not only for providing a better understanding of societies, but also for business purposes and improving quality of life.
Field ethnography is one of the main areas of the discipline. Many ethnographers use first-hand methods to gather the data they need. This can include traveling to different places, interacting with people and recording their ideas, as well as observing patterns from afar. For example, an ethnographer might go to a specific city or country and mingle with the residents in order to understand what effects government policy has on their lives. An ethnographer usually tries to apply a holistic approach, which means analyzing the whole of the work instead of forming conclusions based on individual examples.
An area that benefits directly from this type of work is design ethnography. An individual in this profession studies and examines people’s needs and desires. The research done by a design ethnographer can be used by a variety of industries to model products to meet consumer demand or needs. For example, a common problem in a number of countries around the world is the lack of electrical power. Since this prevents people from charging mobile phones, some manufacturers have designed phones that operate on energy made from sun or wind-power.
The growth of online communities has created the need for another type of ethnography, called virtual or online ethnography. Individuals who work in this area do the same types of research as field ethnographers, but study how Internet-based groups work, rather than people interacting face-to-face. These virtual communities, however, typically gather due to common interests instead of a shared geographical location. Many participants use such online groups to share opinions on topics of interest. Some virtual ethnographers participate in these discussions to gain a better understanding of the group, while others prefer to anonymously monitor others' interactions, which is typically called lurking.