James Spradley

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James P. Spradley
James P. Spradley
Born 1933
Died 1982 (aged 48–49)
Occupation professor, ethnographer, anthropologist
Nationality American
Notable works The Ethnographic Interview, Participant Observation

James P. Spradley (1933-1982) was a professor of Anthropology at Macalester College from 1969. Spradley wrote or edited 20 books on ethnography and qualitative research including Participant Observation and The Ethnographic Interview (1979, Wadsworth Thomson Learning). In The Ethnographic Interview, Spradley describes 12 steps for developing an ethnographic study using ethnosemantics. This book followed his 1972 textbook (with David W. McCurdy) The Cultural Experience: Ethnography in Complex Society. He was a major figure in the development of the "new ethnography" which saw every individual as a carrier of the culture rather than simply looking to the outputs of the great artists of the time. [1]

He died of leukemia in 1982.

Reception and impact[edit]

Spradley's work was widely used as college texts for American Studies classes in the 1970s.[1]

In You Owe Yourself a Drunk he conducted interviews and created a "typology of the different kinds" homeless alcoholic men.[2] It has been called a "classic" of "good systemic ethnography".[3]

Spradley's book "Deaf like me", written with his brother Tom, records the experience of Tom's daughter Lynn who was born deaf after her mother contracted the German measles. The book follows the family from the first fears that their child may be deformed, the relief of having a healthy baby girl, the anguish at realizing she was deaf and the years of treatment. Spradley provides a deep and meaningful insight into what its like to have a deaf child. At the time, many doctors encouraged a purely oral environment. Lynn's parents explain that their daughters "native language" was not English but sign language. Most of the book explains what led to this revelation.[4] File:deaflikeme.jpg

Types of analysis[edit]

Spradley describes ethnography as different from deductive types of social research in that the five steps of ethnographic research--selecting a problem, collecting data, analyzing data, formulating hypotheses, and writing--all happen simultaneously (p. 93-94).

In The Ethnographic Interview, Spradley describes four types of ethnographic analysis that basically build on each other. The first type of analysis is domain analysis, which is “a search for the larger units of cultural knowledge” (p. 94). The other kinds of analysis are taxonomic analysis, componential analysis, and theme analysis.


  • 1970 You Owe Yourself a Drunk: Adaptive Strategies of Urban Nomads. Boston: Little Brown. (Reissued Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 2000.)
  • 1972 Culture and Cognition: Rules, Maps and Plans. San Francisco: Chandler.
  • 1975 The Cocktail Waitress: Woman's Work in a Man's World. New York: Wiley.
  • 1979 The Ethnographic Interview. United States, Wadsworth Group/Thomas Learning.
  • 1980 Participant Observation. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Spradley and David McCurdy
  • 1989 Anthropology: The Cultural Perspective. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. (First published in 1980.)
James Spradley and Michael A. Rynkiewich
  • 1976 Ethics and Anthropology: Dilemmas in Fieldwork. New York: Wiley.
James Spradley and Thomas Spradley
  • 1979 Deaf Like Me. New York City, NY: Random House (Reissued Gallaudet University Press: Washington, DC, 1987)


  1. ^ a b Maddox, Lucy (1957). Locating American Studies: The Evolution of a Discipline. JHU Press. pp. 196–. ISBN 9780801860560. Retrieved 4 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Elwell, Christine Marie (2008). From Political Protest to Bureaucratic Service: The Transformation of Homeless Advocacy in the Nation's Capital and the Eclipse of Political Discourse. ProQuest. pp. 96–. ISBN 9780549926450. Retrieved 4 November 2013. 
  3. ^ Morse, Janice M. (1994). Critical Issues in Qualitative Research Methods. SAGE Publications. pp. 193–. ISBN 9780803950436. Retrieved 4 November 2013. 
  4. ^ Gannon, Jack. 1981. Deaf Heritage–A Narrative History of Deaf America, Silver Spring, MD: National Association of the Deaf, pp. 411-412 (PDF)(PDF)