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01-09-2014 | Issue 5/2014

Quality & Quantity 5/2014

Ethnographic studies of social causation: observing conjunctures of action sequences in particular settings

Journal:
Quality & Quantity > Issue 5/2014
Author:
Shanyang Zhao

Abstract

While the importance of ethnographic research for causal understanding is widely recognized, the logic of this argument has not been well articulated. The purpose of this paper is to specify the conditions under which direct field observations become essential for causal studies. It is argued in this paper that the concept of “human causation” is fundamental for understanding the causal relevance of ethnographic research. Specifically, ethnographic methods are most suited for observing conjunctures of action sequences in particular social settings. In causally fixed settings, ethnographers focus on the recurrent causal pathways leading to a predictable outcome; and in causally open settings, ethnographers study the critical junctures in and important conjunctures of contingent sequences of events that give rise to unpredictable outcomes. In both instances, the immersion of the researcher into the setting to observe the unfolding of the events being studied plays a key role in uncovering and understanding the underlying causal processes. The limitations of ethnographic methods for causal studies are also discussed in the paper.

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