Nadai, E. and C. Maeder. 2005. “Fuzzy Fields: Multi-Sited Ethnography in Sociological Research.”

Nadai, Eva and Christoph Maeder. 2005. “Fuzzy Fields: Multi-Sited Ethnography in Sociological Research.” Qualitative Research 6(3): 1-13.

Participant observation is characteristic of ethnography, however, it is often underdeveloped in literature regarding ethnographic methods, particularly due to the lack of focus in sociological ethnography given to small, delineated groups – choosing to focus on theoretical analysis of a cultural segment. Authors define and delineate field as an important idea in undergoing participant observation – here, a multi-sited approach works to “trace [..] inherently fragmented and multiply situated research object across social worlds” (1). Sociological ethnography is not isolate from other contexts – famous sociological subjects of the Chicago school, etc. “could never be depicted as cultural islands isolated from the surrounding world.  Neither could they be mistaken as simply a fragment of the larger society mirroring all its culture” (2).  Must acknowledge multiplicity of agents and institutions that impact each other – often leading to a multiplicity of observational sites. “Its contours emerge only during the research process as the ethnographer traces informants across multiple sites that turn out to become relevant in the light of the research question” (here 4, see also Marcus 1995).

“From a symbolic interactionist vantage point we conceive of ethnographic fields as “social worlds” and these are formed by “sets of common or joint activities or concerns bound together by a network of communications” (KLING & GERSON, cited in STRAUSS 1984, p.123). They are formed by a set of actors focused on a common concern and acting on the basis of a minimal working consensus (CLARKE 1991; STRÜBING 1997). Social worlds are contexts for certain processes, actions and ideas and their protagonists, which are the actual object of an ethnographic study. Or as GEERTZ (1973, p.22) has reminded the ethnographers: “The locus of study is not the object of study.” Nonetheless the ethnographer still needs to identify concrete locales within a social world where the practices and interactions s/he is interested can actually be observed” (here 4-5) – this requires theoretical clarification before designating fields.

Multi-sited ethnography operates on theoretically-based contrasting as proposed by grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss 1967, Strauss and Corbin 1990) –

Multi-sited ethnography may differ from conventional anthropological ethnography in time invested by researcher/”natives” , depth of focus offered to each site (based on accessibility and nature of field).   However, a consequence of the shorter field stays is a loss of descriptive, contextual detail.

“Sociological ethnography does not equate culture with society. Culture in this view consists of shared webs of meanings in language and interaction. But the concept of society adheres to the emerging social forms thereof, like social roles, class, institutions, […].  Once again the object of the study is not a particular field and all its culture, but some theoretical concept, which supposedly can be studied best in a certain context or field” (9-10).

Benefits – over multiple sites, we can see that potential generalizeability can emerge – ability to merge everyday details with larger discourses.


CLARKE 1991 === without bibliographic reference

Geertz, Clifford (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books

Glaser, Barney & Strauss, Anselm (1967). The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. New York: Aldine de Gruyter

KLING & GERSON == w/o br

Marcus, George E. (1995). Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited

Ethnography. Annual Review of Anthropology, 24, 95-117.

STRAUSS 1984, p.123 == w/o br

Strauss, Anselm L. & Corbin, Juliet (1990). Basics of Qualitative Research. Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques. Newbury Park: Sage.

STRÜBING 1997. === w/o br


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