The Ethnographic Turn in Political Science: Reflections on the State of the Art
by Evelyn Z. Brodkin, The University of Chicago
Ethnographic approaches continue to capture the imagination of scholars in the discipline, even as political science becomes increasingly identified with quantitative measures and models. In fact, there has been something of an ethnographic turn in political science, but one that has still to be adequately understood and conceptualized. This article considers the state of the art: how ethnographic strategies have been deployed and their distinctive contributions to the discipline. A common element in ethnographic approaches is the premise that people do not function in a vacuum; their modes of political thought and behavior develop in interaction with their real world environment. Ethnographic methods offers tools of inquiry that are particularly well-suited to research that seeks to contextualize political behaviors and beliefs and trace their development in real-life settings. By directly engaging with their subjects, ethnographic approaches enable investigation and close examination of political realities and dynamics that otherwise may be unseen or unheard.