International Education Journal

Educational Research Conference 2003 Special Issue


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What's Really Wrong with Ethnography? 

Grant Banfield
Flinders University




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In asking the provocative question: 'What's wrong with ethnography? Hammersley draws attention to what he sees as the conceptual and methodological confusion arising from two competing strands of practice: 'naive realism' and 'relativism'. As a solution, he offers 'subtle realism' to steer a path through and beyond the confusion. This paper presents an analysis of Hammersley's work, drawing attention to some of its shortcomings. These centre on two closely related issues. The first is Hammersley's conflation of ontology and epistemology. This results in a shallow realism that ignores the ontological status of structure and its relation to human practice. In contrast, Bhaskar's critical realism is offered as an appropriate under labourer to ethnographic theory and practice. The second is Hammersley's quick dismissal of orthodox Marxism as a viable theory for critical ethnography. Drawing on the critical realist ideas of stratification and emergence, the paper argues that Marxism is essential to any worthwhile critical ethnography.

Ethnography, Critical Realism, Marxism, Philosophy of Science


  Banfield, G. (2004) What's Really Wrong with Ethnography? International Education Journal, 4 (4), 53-63.

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