University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

What Does an Ethnographer Do?

The goal is to get “an intimate and authentic representation of the person’s life,” says U of T prof Jooyoung Lee

In January 2010, Jooyoung Lee began conducting interviews at a hospital in Philadelphia with patients who had been shot. Lee, an ethnographer, was interested in learning more about how a shooting injury affected people long after they returned home from the hospital. Would they make a full recovery? Whom would they draw on for support? How would their life have to change? During the interviews, Lee asked the shooting victims if they’d be willing to hang out with him regularly as they went about their day-to-day activities.

Ethnographers are like embedded journalists. They spend hundreds – or even thousands – of hours with their participants, interacting with them, watching and recording. Their goal, says Lee, is to get “an intimate and authentic representation of the person’s life.” One thing ethnographers have learned, he notes, is that there are big differences between what people say about their life and how they actually live.

In the end, Lee observed nine of the 40 people he interviewed at the hospital. On some days, Lee accompanied them for a few hours as they did errands. On others, he spent most of the day with them – or sometimes an evening in a social context. “It wasn’t really structured. It was when I had time, when they had something interesting going on or when they wanted me to come over,” he says.

Lee’s field study ended in late 2011, and he’s now writing a book about gunshot victims, called Ricochet. The title, he says, alludes to the book’s central finding: that a gunshot injury causes difficulties that reverberate through a victim’s life.

Recent Posts

Photo of front campus field and Convocation Hall with flower emoji illustrations floating above

Clearing the Air

U of T wants to drastically cut carbon emissions by 2050. It’s enlisting on-campus ingenuity for help

Abstract illustration showing a red-coloured body and face, with small black and white pieces flowing from inside body out of the mouth, and the U.S. Capitol Building dangling on puppet strings from one hand

The Extremism Machine

Online disinformation poses a danger to society. Researchers at U of T’s Citizen Lab are tracking it – and trying to figure out how to stop it

Prof. Mark V. Campbell with a beige background and red lighting

Charting Hip Hop’s Course

Professor Mark V. Campbell grew up during the early years of rap music. Now, he is helping preserve Canadian hip-hop culture for future generations

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. One Response to “ What Does an Ethnographer Do? ”

  2. Adrian Marquez says:

    I am an anthropologist who has worked in restaurants for many years. I have compiled some of the observations I've seen in the field, and I agree with Professor Lee's observation that people live one way but will often say they live another.