As a method of data collection ethnography entails examining the behaviour of the participants in a certain specific social situation and also understanding their interpretation of such behaviour. Dewan (2018) further elaborates that this behaviour may be shaped by the constraints the participants feel because of the situations they are in or by the society in which they belong. Ethnography, as the presentation of empirical data on human societies and cultures, was pioneered in the biological, social, and cultural branches of anthropology, but it has also become popular in the social sciences in general—sociology, communication studies, history—wherever people study ethnic groups, formations, compositions, resettlements, social welfare characteristics, materiality, spirituality, and a people's ethnogenesis. The typical ethnography is a holistic study and so includes a brief history, and an analysis of the terrain, the climate, and the habitat. In all cases, it should be reflexive, make a substantial contribution toward the understanding of the social life of humans, have an aesthetic impact on the reader, and express a credible reality. An ethnography records all observed behavior and describes all symbol-meaning relations, using concepts that avoid causal explanations. Traditionally, ethnography was focussed on the western gaze towards the far 'exotic' east, but now researchers are undertaking ethnography in their own social environment. According to Dewan (2018), even if we are the other, the ‘another’ or the ‘native’, we are still ‘another’ because there are many facades of ourselves that connect us to people and other facades that highlight our differences.
The word 'ethnography' is derived from the Greek ἔθνος (ethnos), meaning "a company, later a people, nation" and -graphy, meaning "writing". Ethnographic studies focus on large cultural groups of people who interact over time. Ethnography is a set of qualitative methods that are used in social sciences that focus on the observation of social practices and interactions. Its aim is to observe a situation without imposing any deductive structure or framework upon it and to view everything as strange or unique.
The field of anthropology originated from Europe and England designed in late 19th century. It spread its roots to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. Some of the main contributors like E. B. Tylor (1832–1917) from Britain and Lewis H. Morgan (1818–1881), an American scientist were considered as founders of cultural and social dimensions. Franz Boas (1858–1942), Bronislaw Malinowski (1858—1942), Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead (1901–1978), were a group of researchers from the United States who contributed the idea of cultural relativism to the literature. Boas's approach focused on the use of documents and informants, whereas Malinowski stated that a researcher should be engrossed with the work for long periods in the field and do a participant observation by living with the informant and experiencing their way of life. He gives the viewpoint of the native and this became the origin of field work and field methods.
Since Malinowski was very firm with his approach he applied it practically and traveled to Trobriand Islands which are located off the eastern coast of New Guinea. He was interested in learning the language of the islanders and stayed there for a long time doing his field work. The field of ethnography became very popular in the late 19th century, as many social scientists gained an interest in studying modern society. Again, in the latter part of the 19th century, the field of anthropology became a good support for scientific formation. Though the field was flourishing, it had a lot of threats to encounter. Postcolonialism, the research climate shifted towards post-modernism and feminism. Therefore, the field of anthropology moved into a discipline of social science.
Gerhard Friedrich Müller developed the concept of ethnography as a separate discipline whilst participating in the Second Kamchatka Expedition (1733–43) as a professor of history and geography. Whilst involved in the expedition, he differentiated Völker-Beschreibung as a distinct area of study. This became known as "ethnography," following the introduction of the Greek neologism ethnographia by Johann Friedrich Schöpperlin and the German variant by A. F. Thilo in 1767. August Ludwig von Schlözer and Christoph Wilhelm Jacob Gatterer of the University of Göttingen introduced the term into the academic discourse in an attempt to reform the contemporary understanding of world history.