While now widely accepted as an approach to social research, ethnography is still by no means uncontroversial. Current debates centre on its claim to capture an independent social reality and its relations to social and political practice. There has always been a relativistic strand in ethnographic thinking, but this has become stronger in recent years. For example, there are those who (under the influence of post-structuralism and other recent philosophical trends) regard ethnographic texts as constructing the realities' they describe. Similarly, the distanced attitude of many ethnographers towards politics and practice has come under increasing challenge from those who seek to employ ethnography for the pursuit of practical and political goals. Even the longstanding debate about the relationship between quantitative and qualitative method has not been satisfactorily resolved. This book examines three issues. The author argues that traditional ethnographic thinking involves a naive relativism, an option that seems increasingly attractive to ethnographers.
Similarly, while insisting that ethnographic findings must be relevant to practical and political issues, he rejects the arguments of advocates of critical and practitioner ethnography. As regards the relationship between qualitative and quantitative approaches to social research, he questions the idea that ethnography represents a distinct epistemological or even methodological paradigm. Instead he suggests that ultimately it should be integrated into the mainstream of social research methodology. Challenging and provocative, but always accessible, this book will be essential reading for anyone with an interest in qualitative research or indeed in social research methodology generally.