Conceptualization of Ethnography of Literacy and/or Language

To assist in understanding something that is still considered abstract or difficult to understand, it is easier to use an analogy. In his article, Blommaert (2009) makes an analogy for ethnography: Generally, when we watch a soccer match, our eyes are fixed on where the ball is being fought for. Automatically, our eyes only see the players who are around the ball, right? However, the reality on the field, even though it is not captured by the camera, is that players who are outside the camera's reach also carry out important activities, such as running movements, facial expressions, and even faces thinking about strategy. The movement of players who are not visible on camera is also important for the success of each team. Not only players, we also often escape the coach who directs his players from the side of the field. Obviously, the various activities on this soccer field are not linear. This means that it is not easy to predict the direction of the game and the activities of the players, but it is dynamic which can lead to sudden changes in the advantage of a team. This is also the case with ethnography. Ethnography aims to describe complex activities as a whole. Not even simplify the complexity it has. This is the reason why it takes so long to use ethnography (Blommaert, 2009).

source: republika online,

Ethnography, according to Blommaert & Jie (2010), is often considered as method of data collection. In anthropology, ethnography is often equated with synonym for description. Furthermore, in the field of language, ethnography is often equated with techniques and sets of prepositions. However, ethnography is actually a philosophy. Also, another important thing is the main characteristics of ethnography, namely openness, which can easily be corrected as the research itself is conducted (Hymes, 1982).

Ethnography is actually about the patterns formed in a particular society. An example written by Hymes (1982) is the community in Philadelphia. We know that Philadelphia has its own newspaper, as well as television stations, libraries, radio stations, magazines, and even comedians of their own. This ethnography can explain the relationship between all things that exist in the city. 

Furthermore, ethnography is explained using narrative (Hymes, 1982). This narrative is also very important in ethnography. An example of the use of narration is the habit of the Balinese people in cockfighting. Hymes (1982) explained that films can help explain the phenomenon of Balinese society, but by using narration it can provide more detail about this phenomenon. In addition to the phenomenon of cockfighting in Bali, Ortner (2016) also provided another example in ethnographic research, namely the research conducted by Mike Davis (1992) which explains in California which architecturally makes houses look like prisons.

source: komangputra blog,


Blommaert, J. (2009). Ethnography and democracy: Hymes's political theory of language. Tex and Talk, 29(3), 257-276.

Blommaert, J. & Jie, D. (2010). Ethnographic fieldwork: A Beginner's Guide. Multilingual Matters.

Hymes, D. (1982). What is ethnography? In Children in and out of school: ethnography and education (pp. 21-32). Center for Applied Linguistics.

Ortner, S. B. (2016). Dark anthropology and its others. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 6(1), 47-73.


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