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Ethnographic Approach To Audience Research Add in library

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What does an ethnographic approach to audience research involve? Briefly discuss how this approach compares with other approaches to audience study and briefly outline the strengths and weaknesses of this approach in audience research.




Elements of Ethnographic approach

Ethnographic approach towards audience research is a qualitative method and has some distinctive aspects that differentiate it from some of the other conventional research or survey methods. One of the integral aspects of ethnographic approach of audience research is that certain aspects of the sample, selected for media research, are scrutinized and studied thoroughly (Wimmer, & Dominick, 2013). Based on these observations, certain hypothesis is formed, thus reversing the traditional process of designing research on the basis of a chosen hypothesis.

The basic tenets of ethnographic approach to audience research are as follows:

  • In depth questioning
  • Active listening
  • Observation
  • Deduction

The objective of the basic pattern of ethnographic approach to audience research is to unearth certain traits and behavioral aspects of the chosen sample size. Traditionally, in media research, ethnographic groups were used to assess the behavioral aspects of existing and potential audiences, belonging to a separate society. However, over the years, ethnographic approach has been applied to reveal certain aspects of the subcultures that are formed within a larger society, which is otherwise familiar to the researchers as a whole (Pink, 2013). Thus, ethnographic research is used as a tool to study an alien society as well as to delve deeper with an otherwise familiar society and community and unearth the traits of a subculture formed within it. Ethnographic studies, conducted on short notice, may involve group discussions, based on certain questions directed at identifying the traits of a particular group. In this case, the group is not informed about the purpose of the research and hypothesis is formed on the basis of the collected data. However, ethnographic approach is traditionally conducted by interaction with the chosen samples in real life environments. These informal interactions often reveal certain useful behavioral traits. These information are utilized to create programs that are suited to audiences’’ tastes and perceptions (Stokes, 2012).

Comparison of methodologies

Some of the other prominent forms of media research methodologies are:

  • Media Diary method
  • Q Method

Media Diary method is used to maximize the scopes of expression of the participants in the research. The participants are asked to maintain diaries, wherein they can maintain records of various aspects that include hours spent on a particular form of media, usage patterns and particular experiences or perceptions related to viewing or listening of certain forms of media. One of the main characteristics of this method is that the participants are assured of greater levels of privacy, as compared to some of the other forms of media researches. This is because, the respondents the opinions and feedbacks of the respondents will be accessible only to the person conducting the research. Ethnographic approach is used as a tool to reveal the current behavioral aspects of the respondents in terms of media uses. Media diaries are used to obtain information regarding audience tastes and preferences that are expected to remain constant in the long run (Jensen, 2013). These preferences are likely to stay unchanged in the near future.


Q factor methodology is used to sort multiple and distinct viewpoints of the selected respondents. In this type of study, the respondents are asked to rank or arrange a number of pre identified factors or elements. A correlation is formed among the choices or preferences associated by a respondent to the various factors. The responses to the expressed preferences are linked and used to form a cohesive idea about the overall viewpoint of the respondent (Davis & Michelle, 2011). Ethnography is often used to study the cultural traits displayed by a particular society or community. It involves grouping or classifying groups based on certain traits. Q factor methodology involves forming holistic idea on an individual basis. The individual data are subsequently linked to correlate the perceptions of a group.

Assessment of ethnography approach

Like the other prominent media research methods, ethnographic approach has certain strengths and weaknesses. The strengths of this approach are as follows:

  • It is conducted by interacting with the respondents in a real life scenario. This minimizes scopes of errors that might have occurred if a respondent was asked to remember an experience in a prearranged research environment (Brennen, 2012).
  • There is no rigid hypothesis for conducting the researches. Rather the hypothesis is unbiased and can be formed or discarded based on the observations and deductions.
  • This approach can be used to reveal finer traits that could not be exposed by other media research methods.

The weaknesses of this approach are as follows:

  • Small sample sizes may be considered as representative of a larger group of potential or existing audiences, leading to generalization (Anderson, 2011).
  • It often rises ethical issues related to the privacy of the respondents


    1. Wimmer, Roger & Dominick, Joseph 2013, Mass Media Research, Cengage Learning, USA.
    2. Pink, Sarah 2013, Doing Visual Ethnography, SAGE, USA.
    3. Stokes, Jane 2012, How to Do Media and Cultural Studies, SAGE, USA.
    4. Jensen, Klaus Bruhn 2013, A Handbook of Media Communication and Research: Qualitative and Quantitative methodologies, Routledge, UK.
    5. Brennen, Bonnie S 2012, Qualitative Research Methods for Media Studies, Routledge, UK.


  1. Anderson, James A 2011, Media Research Methods: Understanding Metric and Interpretive Approaches, SAGE, USA.


  1. Davis, Charles H & Michelle, Carolyn 2011, ‘Q Methodology in Audience Research: Bridging the Qualitative/ Quantitative ‘Divide’?’, Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, vol 8 (2), pp 560-561.

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