Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Is there a definition of Ethnography?

Written by: on September 10, 2015

As I approached this new book Doing Visual Ethnography by Sarah Pink, I attempted to do everything that I learned in the previous book about how to read a book.  I read the introduction; I read the acknowledgement and table of contents.  One of the things that I desperately needed to discover was what did the word ethnography mean?  Especially in the context of this book, what did it mean?  On page twenty-two I finally had my answer.  Ethnography is a methodology, as an approach to experiencing, interpreting and representing culture and society that informs and is informed by different disciplinary agendas and theoretical principles.  Rather than a method for collection of data, ethnography is a process of creating and representing knowledge about society, culture and individual that is based on the ethnographer’s own experiences. The next phrase really caught me and I believe it is a theme throughout the book. “It does not claim to produce objective or truthful accounts of reality but should aim to offer versions of the ethnographers experiences of reality that are as loyal as possible to the context, negotiations and intersubjectivities through which the knowledge was produced.”[1]  What a license is given to the ethnographer!  It is based on your experiences.

Immediately my mind went to the most current encyclopedia of ethnography, Facebook!   Isn’t this exactly what this generation is completely in to?   Each ethnographer has only his or her own experiences to post.  And boy do they post away usually with a commentary.  So there really is a name for a Facebook user!  An Ethnographer!  The concept of offering your own experiences without any boundaries except for your own experience is completely the language of this generation.   Which if you are not following me on Facebook you can do that at www.facebook.com/knxtreme.  You can observe me doing visual ethnography.

If you are in the know, Instagram (knxtreme) and twitter (knxtreme) and even snapchat (knxtreme) are the more preferred platform for ethnography for this current generation.   Periscope (knxtreme)  brings in the elements of chapter four, video.  Live streaming what you are experiencing at the moment so others can do the same with you is the latest thing.  On page ninety-seven the author makes this statement “I write with the assumption that most contemporary video ethnographers will be using digital camcorders.”[2]   Isn’t it amazing how quickly things have changed.  The most modern ethnographic tool is simply your smart phone; it can take video, pictures and write the story on any platform that you choose to use.  Wow, how forward thinking was Sarah Pink to see this as a field for out of the box thinkers.

I like the careful and lengthy conversation that is had about informants.  Defining the terminology for a field that you are creating is something that I believe as a minister and as a D-min student that I have to be open to doing.  There has been much damage done to the terminology of the church and of Christianity that is offensive to this generation.   So to redefine the language to fit the relationships that are developed is key.   What a powerful concept.  To move from “informant, respondent or research subject” to “research participant and interlocutor” is a major shift because of relationship.[3] I like that this simple introduction to being so aware of the culture that even the defining words are addressed is truly impressive.

YouTube (knxtreme) is the culmination of the approach.  I believe that the author hits it completely on the head, ” Different people interpret the same footage differently, giving their own meanings to its’ content.”  This is written in response to “talking with video and a “media ethnography” approach to the informants viewing practices.”   The simple number of hours that students and adults spend pouring over YouTube videos is astounding.   According to Time, “more than 400 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute (that’s 65 years a day!), three times as much as was posted two years ago.  That means sharing and more engagement.”[4]  This book has really pushed me to think creatively and to think in the abstract of what is possible in truly communicating with this generation.

The last thing that I take away from this book is the power in using photos or video to make a point.  It can be my point but it is always open to interpretation by the viewer.  Editing the video and the photo to most strongly present my own experience or point of view is validated.  It can be persuasive and very powerful.  If I want a message to come across I can combine the different media to convincingly tell my experience.  This is an incredible handbook for modern communication in this digital age.   I have become an ethnographer and I just didn’t know it (knxtreme).





[1]Sarah Pink. Doing Visual Ethnography. Sage Publications, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC.,2007. p.22.

[2] IBID, p.97.

[3]IBID, p. 38.

[4] Belinda Luscombe,  “YouTube’s View Master,” TIME,  Sept 7, 2015,75.


About the Author


Kevin Norwood

My name is Kevin Norwood and I have been in youth ministry for the past 34 years. On February 14th, 1994, 27 years ago, we moved to Owasso OK and wow what a ride. My wife, Ann, is an RN and specializes in Clinical Documentation working from home. Maci is a my 21 year old daughter and she loves and shows horses. Her horse's name is Charlie. She is currently working with animals and loves to go on trail rides with her horse. London is my 10 year old son and he keeps me young. He absolutely loves life!! Golfing, baseball and Hawaii is his latest adventures. He skied for the first time in Colorado this year. I have started a coaching business for pastors at www.kevinnorwood.com and it is exciting the doors that God is opening. I earned my Doctorate in Leadership and Global Perspectives from George Fox on Feb 10, 2018.

13 responses to “Is there a definition of Ethnography?”

  1. Claire Appiah says:

    Thanks for replying to my post and sharing your experiences with the role ethnography can play in cross-cultural situations. You have read Pink well. As an experienced ethnographer yourself you were able to “come to terms with the author” as Adler would say. After fully understanding her reasoning and arguments you have earned the right to offer the intelligent, informed critique that you did.

  2. Aaron Cole says:


    Great post! I am totally with you on the issue of definition. I thought I was losing my mind and/or majorly missing something. I think Pink would have been much better off with opening with the definition of ethnography than burring it. As for your connection to Facebook, spot on! Great observation.


  3. Rose Anding says:

    Greetings Kevin,
    Your post was very interesting to me, it gave the answer to visual ethnography; because it is your experience that you convey to another with visual aid; which leaves the beholder searching for truth of the picture. I am speaking only of make generalizations using visual ethnography. Example: The cover of a book makes one sometime buy it. When I was doing my book signing, everyone stop to check out my book ; because of the cover; which displayed very high heel of a Red Shoe”, the men say, “I must read”, the ladies would ask what is about? And it was the clients who had or was having the same issues or knew someone with an issue. They were drawn to my ministry; because I had experienced and overcame what they going through. IF we have a testimony, that mean we have some great experience to share with other and the truth will be told. Therefore you can see the visual ethnography as great tool for research and ministry.
    Your blog was great; but I wanted to share with you about my experience; because it a great teacher. I have lead many persons to Christ, by telling the story. ( It not a sermon,LOL)
    Thank you for sharing. Rose Maria

    Revelation 12:11 (KJV)
    11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.

  4. Pablo Morales says:

    I like how you connect the concepts of the book with contemporary culture. By reading your post I learned new helpful information – like the existence of periscope and the data about YouTube usage. One element that confused me about Sarah Pink’s book was her definition of ethnography. It seems clear that ethnography is a methodology – that is, until you get to the last page of the book (213), where she says, “Doing Visual Ethnography is not a method – not something that is ‘done’ but something that is happening in the doing…” So, is it a method or not? And if it is not a method, then what is it? What do you think she means? Thank you for an insightful post!

    • Kevin Norwood says:

      According to the book, it is a lengthy method. Or maybe it is a mindset. All of the thinking that goes behind the picture.

      From my perspective the definition of this topic is never clearly given and then to end the whole book with a contradiction to what is given as a very vague definition from page 22 doesn’t bring resolve instead it brings confusion.

      I want to be a clearer at writing.

  5. Garfield Harvey says:

    Hats off to you for this post because I was mostly lost throughout the entire book and I desperately tried to find a definition of ethnography to connect me with the book. I’m a systematic reader so everything for me needs to structure so chapter one should connect me with chapter two. Pink states that she wants the reader to choose their own format of reading so I felt scattered. I was trying to grasp an understanding but I felt like I was reading an encyclopedia for most of the book. Kevin, you definitely brought clarity for me so now I can actually appreciate the book a little more. I still have my objections on how it was written but at least I understand the author’s intent.

  6. To all: I had a really hard time finding the definition in the beginning of the book. I believe it should have been right up front. I know for sure that I have learned from this author how NOT to write to hold a reader’s interest. I needed to know what you were talking about from the moment I purchased the book and even in the definition it was not a simple definition but a elongated and elaborate pontification. I gleaned through that to find a definition but I learned some valuable lessons from this author.

    Because I was not invested in this culture most of the significant references to other peoples work were lost on me. If I am going to write on a new field or bring new things to the culture I am hoping to influence then definitions of term or language has to be a major priority for me!

    Thanks for the input back on the post. That is most helpful in bringing perspective to this cohort.


  7. Kevin,
    Thanks for this post and your most recent comment. I had the same frustration about finding the definition of ethnography. The other frustration was trying to find a definition for “reflexive.” I googled it a couple times and that was helpful. But like you, I think some of these definitions should be up front in the Introduction.

  8. Great read, Kevin!

    I wonder how many of us approached this book differently, because of our interaction with the previous book by Adler. Sarah Pink engaged her readers and challenged each one of us to question the text. I found myself searching for the main theme and penning my arguments and questions in the margins. Many of Pink’s tools and teachings were applicable, but it caused us to question our audience and question the overall need that each of us face in ministry. Did you find yourself gravitating to chapters that gave you the right tools for your specific needs? Did it cause you to search out ways to implement them in your youth ministry? One aspect of ethnography that captivated my attention was the variability of application. Each tool was valid and proven affective; however, each tool must be used specifically and intentionally to grapple with the individual story we’re called to tell. Pink suggests, “Visual Ethnography plays a dual role – she or he seeks to understand the visual practices and images that participate in other people’s worlds, while also casting a reflexive focus on her or his own visual practices and images and the ways of knowing associated with them” (Pink, 16). Ethnography is an accompaniment to visual theatrics. We’re able to see and experience the story through the methods used to captivate our senses.

    • Kevin Norwood says:

      We are constantly looking for new ways to implement these concepts into youth ministry. I took a poll of our students this past Sunday evening of the number one time waster that they have and YouTube came up instantly. The interesting thing is that all of the hundreds of hours that they invest in watching YouTube is influencing and shaping who they are. They are learning from other people just like them and their perspective and now they can interact with the “artist” easily because they are not famous but instead just like them.

      Quite a shift in the generation so it makes it interesting in ministering to them and connecting with their input channels.

      Periscope is live streaming of your life and is starting to really take off. It will be interesting to see if it gets bigger than twitter. It has started to replace vines because it is not limited by time.

  9. Marc Andresen says:

    Kevin – thanks for the reminder from Pink about the definition of ethnography: “Rather than a method for collection of data, ethnography is a process of creating and representing knowledge about society, culture and individual that is based on the ethnographer’s own experiences.”

    This is such a great statement. It reminds me of my favorite definition of preaching: “The Word of God communicated through personality.” We work to objectively present truth, but must always be aware that our own experiences DO affect our interpretations.

  10. Phil Goldsberry says:


    That is so funny! I did the same thing to this book as Adler had suggested. Navigated through as he had prescribed and found myself still frustrated after 2 chapters. Then something kicked in and “reading” Pink took on a whole new light.

    Your take on social media making all of us ethnographers is interesting. I question that a little. In most social media contexts you are only “seeing” what they want you to see without any investigative proof. You are assuming that what you are seeing is in context and is truthful.

    Would like to hear your thoughts on that.

    See you soon friend,


    • Kevin Norwood says:


      The reason I believe social media is the complete package of this being an ethnographer is because of the ability to have running commentary. Others define your post. You redefine your post and then someone else attacks your post. Popularity in the teenage world is how many comments or replies you receive to any given post. Adults that use Facebook are definitely looking for the same interaction.

      It is in the interaction that things are defined. Some posts are explosively responded to and others just get nice comments. Some get affirmation or some get direction, but it is definitely interaction. I believe there should be some rules for the internet and social media because it can get off track quickly. (If you want to prove your an idiot just post whatever you are thinking any given moment without a filter!!) I see Pink being the rules or guidelines for her field or study. The how to of ethnography.

      Looking forward to HK


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