Difference Between Ethnography and Phenomenology

Main Difference – Ethnography vs Phenomenology

Ethnography and phenomenology are two detailed, qualitative research studies that are used in the field of social sciences. Ethnography is the systematic study of people and cultures whereas phenomenology is the study of subjective, lived experiences and perspectives of participants. The main difference between ethnography and phenomenology is that ethnography focuses on the collective experiences within a certain culture whereas phenomenology focuses on the individual experiences.

This article explains,

1. What is Ethnography
     – Definition, Features, Focus, Data Collection
2. What is Phenomenology
     – Definition, Features, Focus, Data Collection
3. What is the difference between Ethnography and Phenomenology

Difference Between Ethnography and Phenomenology - Comparison Summary

What is Ethnography

Ethnography is a detailed and in-depth study of the collectivistic experiences within a certain culture. In other words, it is the systematic study of people and cultures. Ethnography involves exploring and studying a culture from an insider’s point of view. Ethnographers (researchers engaged in ethnography) spend extensive time periods in the setting or community that is being studies. This may take weeks, months or even years. This is because understanding the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours relating to a culture require long-term observations.

Ethnographers gather necessary data for analysis by interacting with and interviewing members of the culture and analysing documents and artifacts related to that culture. Thus, observation, interviews, and analysis are the main methods of data collection used in ethnography. This type of research typically consists of a lot of field work.

Traditional ethnographic studies involved studying a bounded or definable group of people such as a village in South India or a particular African tribe. However, modern ethnographic studies also focus on various aspects of the contemporary social life.

Key Difference - Ethnography vs Phenomenology

Figure 1: Ethnography involves researcher living with the community that is being studied for an extensive time period.

What is Phenomenology

Phenomenology is a research study that aims to understand the subjective, lived experiences and perspectives of participants. It provides information about a unique individual experience and is based on the idea that the same experience can be interpreted in multiple ways and that reality consists of the meaning of the experience to each participant. Phenomenology provides a rich and complete description of human experiences and meanings.

The main data collection method in phenomenology is long and intensive personal interviews. These interviews can either be semi-structured or unstructured, and the researcher may have to conduct several interview sessions with each participant. Since phenomenology heavily relies on interviews, the researcher should be skilled at interviewing; audio recording devices should be also used to record the interviews.

However, it is important to note that the data gathered may also depend on the articulate skills of the participants. The analysis method used to follow the data should follow the nature of the data itself.

Difference Between Ethnography and Phenomenology

Figure 2: Phenomenology involves long and intensive interviews.

Difference Between Ethnography and Phenomenology


Ethnography: Ethnography focuses on the collective experience of a community.

Phenomenology: Phenomenology focuses on the individual experiences.

Data Collection Methods

Ethnography: Data can be collected through interviews, observations, and analysis of documents and artifacts.

Phenomenology: Interviews are the main method of data collection.


Ethnography: Ethnography studies the culture, behaviour, attitudes and beliefs.

Phenomenology: Phenomenology studies individual experiences.

Time Period

Ethnography: Ethnographic research may take a considerably long time period than phenomenology.

Phenomenology: Phenomenological studies may not take as much time as ethnographic studies.


The main difference between ethnography and phenomenology is that ethnography focuses on the collective experiences of a community whereas phenomenology focuses on the individual experiences of individuals. Phenomenology is based on the idea that there may be multiple ways of interpreting the same experience while ethnographers are more interested in uncovering knowledge about the culture as a whole. 

Image Courtesy: 

  1. “Allan Interview” By Savory Global – Own work via  
  2. “Wmalinowski trobriand isles 1918″ By Uncredited, likely Billy Hancock – London School of Economics Library Collections (Public Domain) via  


  1. “Ethnographic vs Phenomenological Research Designs.” Kellydubose’s Blog. N.p., 06 Apr. 2010. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.
  2. “Phenomenological Research Guidelines.” Capilano University. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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