Ethnographer: what they do, how to become one, and where to study

Ethnographer: what they do, how to become one, and where to study

Have you ever been fascinated by different cultures and societies? Are you someone who enjoys studying and immersing yourself in the rich tapestry of human diversity? If so, then the profession of an ethnographer might just be the perfect fit for you! In this article, we'll explore what it means to be an ethnographer, the specializations within the field, the tasks and responsibilities involved, as well as the pros and cons of pursuing this captivating career. By the way, recently the ProfGuide career guidance center has developed a precise career orientation test, which will tell you which professions are suitable for you, provide a conclusion about your personality type and intelligence.



Ethnography is a multifaceted field that encompasses various specializations. Ethnographers can choose to focus on specific areas such as urban communities, indigenous tribes, religious groups, or even subcultures within societies. By specializing, ethnographers can delve deep into the unique aspects of a particular group, gaining valuable insights into their beliefs, practices, and social dynamics.

Tasks and Responsibilities

The work of an ethnographer involves conducting extensive research and fieldwork to study different cultures. Here are some of the key tasks and responsibilities:

  1. Immersion and Observation: Ethnographers spend time living and interacting with the community they are studying, observing their customs, rituals, and everyday behaviors.
  2. Interviews and Surveys: Ethnographers conduct interviews and surveys to gather data and insights from individuals within the community, aiming to understand their perspectives and experiences.
  3. Data Analysis: Ethnographers analyze the collected data, identifying patterns, themes, and cultural nuances that contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the community under study.
  4. Report Writing: Ethnographers document their findings in detailed reports, presenting their research in a structured and coherent manner.
  5. Cultural Sensitivity: Ethnographers must approach their work with sensitivity, respect, and an open mind, recognizing and appreciating the diversity and complexity of the cultures they study.

Pros and Cons


  1. Cultural Exploration: As an ethnographer, you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in different cultures, gaining a deep understanding of human behavior and societal dynamics.
  2. Impactful Research: Ethnographic research has the potential to shed light on marginalized communities, challenge stereotypes, and contribute to social and cultural understanding.


  1. Time-Intensive: Conducting ethnographic research often requires long periods of fieldwork, which can be physically and emotionally demanding.
  2. Limited Job Opportunities: The demand for ethnographers can vary, and securing permanent positions or funding for research projects may be challenging.


In the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia, the demand for ethnographers remains steady, albeit with some variations across regions and industries. Academic institutions, research organizations, non-profit entities, and government agencies are common employers for ethnographers.

Salary Ranges

Salaries for ethnographers can vary based on factors such as education, experience, specialization, and location. Here are approximate salary ranges in the respective countries:

  • United States: $45,000 to $80,000 per year
  • Canada: CAD 50,000 to CAD 85,000 per year
  • Great Britain: £25,000 to £45,000 per year
  • Australia: AUD 55,000 to AUD 90,000 per year

Where do Ethnographers Work?

Ethnographers can work in various settings depending on their research focus and interests. They may be found in:

  1. Universities and Research Institutions: Ethnographers often work within academic institutions, conducting research, publishing papers, and teaching ethnographic methodologies.
  2. Cultural Heritage Institutions: Museums, galleries, and cultural heritage organizations employ ethnographers to study and preserve different cultures and artifacts.
  3. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs): Ethnographers contribute their expertise to NGOs focused on social development, community engagement, and cultural preservation. They may work on projects related to indigenous rights, community development, or cultural revitalization.
  4. Government Agencies: Ethnographers can be employed by government agencies to conduct research and provide insights into policy-making, particularly in areas involving cultural diversity, immigration, or indigenous affairs.
  5. Private Sector: Some ethnographers find employment in the private sector, particularly in industries such as market research, advertising, or tourism, where understanding cultural dynamics and consumer behavior is crucial.

The Importance of Ethnographers

Ethnographers play a vital role in our increasingly interconnected world. Their research and insights help foster cross-cultural understanding, challenge stereotypes, and contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage. By studying and documenting diverse communities, ethnographers provide valuable knowledge that can inform policy decisions, drive social change, and promote appreciation for cultural diversity.

Important Qualities of a Successful Ethnographer

To excel in this profession, certain qualities are essential. Here are a few traits that make a successful ethnographer:

  1. Cultural Sensitivity: Ethnographers must demonstrate respect, empathy, and an unbiased approach towards the cultures they study. Cultural sensitivity allows them to build rapport and trust within the communities they work with.
  2. Strong Observational Skills: Ethnographers need to have keen observation skills to capture the nuances of behavior, social interactions, and cultural practices. Attention to detail is crucial for accurate data collection and analysis.
  3. Effective Communication: Ethnographers must possess excellent communication skills, both in writing and interpersonal interactions. They should be able to establish rapport with community members, conduct interviews, and present their findings in a clear and engaging manner.

Step-by-Step Career Path

  1. Obtain a Bachelor's Degree: Start by pursuing a bachelor's degree in a related field such as anthropology, sociology, or cultural studies. This foundation provides essential knowledge in research methodologies and cultural theory.
  2. Gain Field Experience: Seek opportunities to engage in fieldwork, either through internships, research assistantships, or volunteer programs. Practical experience in conducting research and working with diverse communities is invaluable.
  3. Specialize and Pursue Advanced Education: Consider pursuing a master's or doctoral degree in ethnography or a specialized field of interest. This advanced education allows for in-depth study and specialization in a particular area of ethnographic research.
  4. Conduct Independent Research: Undertake independent research projects, either as part of your academic studies or in collaboration with research institutions. This demonstrates your ability to design and execute ethnographic research projects.
  5. Publish and Network: Publish your research findings in academic journals and attend conferences to present your work. Networking with professionals in the field can open up opportunities for collaboration and employment.

How to Become an Ethnographer

In the United States, the path to becoming an ethnographer typically involves obtaining a higher education degree. A bachelor's degree in anthropology or a related field is a common starting point, followed by a master's or doctoral degree for those seeking advanced research and academic positions. The duration of study can vary, with bachelor's programs typically taking four years and advanced degrees requiring an additional two to six years, depending on the program and research requirements.

Where to Become an Ethnographer

Here are five examples of institutions in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia that offer programs in ethnography:

United States:

  1. University of California, Berkeley - Department of Anthropology (Website:
  2. University of Chicago - Department of Anthropology (Website:
  3. Harvard University - Department of Anthropology (Website:
  4. University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Anthropology (Website:
  5. University of British Columbia - Department of Anthropology (Website:


  1. University of Toronto - Department of Anthropology (Website:
  2. McGill University - Department of Anthropology (Website:
  3. University of British Columbia - Department of Anthropology (Website:
  4. University of Alberta - Department of Anthropology (Website:
  5. Memorial University of Newfoundland - Department of Anthropology (Website:

Great Britain:

  1. University of Oxford - School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography (Website:
  2. University College London (UCL) - Department of Anthropology (Website:
  3. University of Manchester - Department of Social Anthropology (Website:
  4. Durham University - Department of Anthropology (Website:
  5. University of Edinburgh - School of Social and Political Science (Website:


  1. Australian National University - School of Archaeology and Anthropology (Website:
  2. University of Melbourne - School of Social and Political Sciences (Website:
  3. University of Sydney - Department of Anthropology (Website:
  4. University of Queensland - School of Social Science (Website:
  5. Monash University - School of Social Sciences (Website:

Can You Enter the Profession with a Different Degree?

While a degree in anthropology or a related field is the most common pathway to becoming an ethnographer, it is possible to enter the profession with a different degree. Some individuals may pursue interdisciplinary studies that combine elements of anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, or even psychology. Additionally, individuals with degrees in fields such as history, international relations, or social work may find opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills in ethnographic research or related positions. However, additional training, experience, or specialized coursework may be necessary to develop the specific ethnographic research methodologies and theoretical frameworks required for the profession.


Being an ethnographer is a fulfilling and intellectually stimulating profession that allows you to explore and understand the intricate tapestry of human cultures. Through research, observation, and engagement with diverse communities, ethnographers contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage, promote cross-cultural understanding, and provide valuable insights into social dynamics. With a strong foundation in anthropology or related fields, practical experience, and a passion for cultural exploration, you can embark on a rewarding career as an ethnographer.

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