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  Ethnography generally refers to the written description of the customs and lifestyle of a specific community in which the anthropologist has lived for a period of years; such an account is called an ethnographic monograph.

Ethnography also refers to the methodological basis of anthropology, that of participant-observation: living among a community and gathering information from people in their own language. These experiences provide the basis on which theoretical issues can be debated. The importance of ethnographic research was established by Bronislav Malinowski, who lived amongst the Trobriand Islanders in Melanesia for the duration of World War I. The books he wrote about them gained popularity among a wide audience.

The recent book Writing Culture by Clifford and Marcus has problematized the idyllic situation described by Malinowski. They argued that the discrepancy between the idealized world of social theory and the actual problems of daily life often compromises the neat and tidy conclusions drawn by anthropologists. The limitations of writing as a medium for conveying experience further hampers scientific pretensions to obtain neat social facts. CL

See also field work; reflexivity.Further reading Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques; , G. Stocking (ed.), Observers Observed.



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