Ethnography of communication
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The Ethnography of communication (EOC) is a method of discourse analysis in linguistics, which draws on the anthropological field of ethnography. Unlike ethnography proper, though, it takes both language and culture to be constitutive as well as constructive. In their book Qualitative Communication Research Methods, communications scholars Thomas R. Lindlof and Bryan C. Taylor (2002) explain "Ethnography of communication conceptualizes communication as a continuous flow of information, rather than as a segmented exchange of messages" (p. 44). According to Deborah Cameron (2001), EOC can be thought of as the application of ethnographic methods to the communication patterns of a group. Littlejohn & Foss (2005) recall that Dell Hymes suggests that “cultures communicate in different ways, but all forms of communication require a shared code, communicators who know and use the code, a channel, a setting, a message form, a topic, and an event created by transmission of the message" (p. 312).
EOC can be used as a means by which to study the interactions among members of a specific culture or, what Gerry Philipsen (1975) calls a "speech community." Speech communities create and establish their own speaking codes/norms. Philipsen (1975) explains that “Each community has its own cultural values about speaking and these are linked to judgments of situational appropriateness” (p. 13). The meaning and understanding of the presence or absence of speech within different communities will vary. Local cultural patterns and norms must be understood for analysis and interpretation of the appropriateness of speech acts situated within specific communities. Thus, “the statement that talk is not anywhere valued equally in all social contexts suggests a research strategy for discovering and describing cultural or subcultural differences in the value of speaking. Speaking is one among other symbolic resources which are allocated and distributed in social situations according to distinctive culture patterns” (Philipsen, 1975, p. 21).
General aims of this qualitative research method include: being able to discern which communication acts and/or codes are important to different groups, what types of meanings groups apply to different communication events, and how group members learn these codes provides insight into particular communities. This additional insight may be used to enhance communication with group members, make sense of group members’ decisions, and distinguish groups from one another, among other things. "ECO studies," according to Lindlof and Taylor (2002), "produce highly detailed analysis of communication codes and their moment-to-moment functions in various contexts. In these analyses, speech communities are constituted in local and continuous performances of cultural and moral matters" (p. 45).
Originally coined "Ethnography of speaking" in Dell Hymes eponymous 1962 paper, it was redefined in his 1964 paper, Introduction: Toward Ethnographies of Communication to accommodate for the non-vocal and non-verbal characteristics of communication, although most EOC researchers still tend to focus upon speaking as it is generally considered "to be a prominent - even primordial - means of communication (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002 p. 46).
Several research studies have used ethnography of communication as a methodological tool when conducting empirical research. Examples of this work include Philipsen’s (1975) study, which examined the ways in which blue-collar men living near Chicago spoke or did not speak based on communication context and personal identity relationship status (were they considered to be of symmetrical or asymmetrical social status). Other examples include: Katriel’s (1990) study of Israeli communication acts involving griping and joking about national and public problems, as well as Carbaugh's (2005) comparative studies of communication in a variety of intercultural contexts. These studies not only identify communication acts, codes, rules, functions, and norms, but they also offer different ways in which the method can be applied. Joel Sherzer's (1983) Kuna Ways of Speaking investigates the ways of speaking among the Kuna of Panama. This is a landmark study that focuses on curing ways, everyday speaking, puberty rites, and gathering house speech-making. It was the first monograph that explicitly took an ethnography of speaking perspective to the whole range of verbal practices among a group of people.
- Bauman, Richard; Sherzer, Joel (1975). "The Ethnography of Speaking". Annual Review of Anthropology 4: 95–119. doi:10.1146/annurev.an.04.100175.000523.
- Cameron, Deborah (2001). Working with spoken discourse. London: Sage. pp. 53–67.
- Carbaugh, Donal (2005). Cultures in Conversation. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 0-8058-5234-4.
- Hymes, D.H. (1962). "The ethnography of speaking". T. Gladwin and W. C. Sturtevant (eds) Anthropology and Human Behaviour. Washington, D. C.: Anthropology Society of Washington.
- Gumperz, John; Hymes, Dell (1972). Directions in sociolinguistics: The ethnography of communication. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
- Hymes, Dell (December 1964). "Introduction: Toward Ethnographies of Communication". American Anthropologist 66 (6): 1–34. doi:10.1525/aa.1964.66.suppl_3.02a00020.
- Hymes, Dell (1974). Foundations in sociolinguistics: An ethnographic approach. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
- Katriel, T. (1990). ‘Griping’ as a verbal ritual in some Israeli discourse. In D. Carbaugh (Ed.), Cultural Communication and Intercultural Contact. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 99–114.
- Lindlof, T. R, & Taylor, B. C. (2002). Qualitative Communication Research Methods 2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 44–47.
- Littlejohn, S. W., & Foss, K. A. (2005). Theories of human communication (8th ed.). USA: Thompson Wadsworth, pp. 312–315.
- Philipsen, G. (1975). Speaking “like a man” in Teamsterville: Culture patterns of role enactment in an urban neighborhood. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 61, 13-22.
- Saville-Troike, Muriel (1982). The Ethnography of Communication: An Introduction. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
- Sherzer, Joel. (1983). Kuna Ways of Speaking: An Ethnographic Perspective. Austin: The University of Texas Press.