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Free «Mini-Ethnography Project» Essay Sample

This mini-ethnography project seeks to engage the anthropological concepts learned during this course to study the social interactions of the elderly people living in Santa Maria Terrace. Santa Maria is a retirement home in Santa Barbara County.

The project begins with a definition of the terms ethnography and mini-ethnography. It then proceeds to describe the life of the elderly people living in Santa Maria, the members and the social structure. The social structure envisages the roles played by the people and the relationships between those roles.

The method of data collection employed is participant observation. It presents result that emerges after over six hours of engaging, one-on-one, the respective informants. It seeks to compare the different explanations for the observations made both by the informant and me.


Ethnography deals with the scientific description of individual cultures. It is the process through which an individual learns from other people about the very many aspects of their lives.

It is a branch of cultural anthropology, the branch of anthropology that focuses on the study of human societies. The terms “cultural anthropology” and “ethnography” are used interchangeably. Though, cultural anthropology includes more research techniques than just ethnography.



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Ethnography as a practice, usually involves fieldwork in which the ethnographer lives among the population that is being studied. The ethnographer would live an ordinary life among the people while at the same time trying to retain objectivity (Smith, 2005).

The objectives would include defining the question, interviewing informants, becoming a participant observer in a community, analyzing one’s observations, and presenting results.

This fieldwork may last for a while that is over a year or sometimes much longer. The ethnographer is required to choose the informants that he or she is to work with. These informants usually know where to obtain the data.

At the end of the field work the ethnographer would write about his or her experiences. This may include a daily account of their life with the people along with other discussions, phenomena’s, rituals and a collection of other events (Smith, 2005).

The term ‘mini’ in mini ethnography simply suggests a short period. Meaning, mini ethnography is ethnography done in a short period of time. This could be six weeks or so. It is more of an initiation for bigger ethnographic undertakings. The ethnographer would then execute the research in that period of time. It is not very wide in scope and also involves a short period of time.

The data collection method that is employed by the ethnographers in most occasions is participant observation. It involves spending substantial amount of time with the people that they study. There are several observational methods that are used. These include video recordings of behavior of the people, audio observation and interviews with open-ended questions (Smith, 2005). All the data that is relevant to the culture studied is collected. In order to comprehend the culture of that particular group, the researcher would have to participate in social events, rituals and customs,

Ethnography plays an important role in our society today. Through this study, gaps between cultures have been closed and this has enabled people to better understand the true meaning and value of different customs and practices in the once distant cultures (Smith, 2005). It also provides the researcher with a much more comprehensive perspective than other forms of research. It is also appropriate to behaviors that are best understood by observing them within their natural environment (dynamics).

There are usually inevitable challenges that arise as the ethnographer interacts with local people. There are usually two cultures in focus, one of the ethnographer and the other of the local people, and thus there has to be unavoidable challenges. First, there is an element of bias in the observations. The objectivity of the research may be influence by the subjectivity of the researcher. Thus it is very important that the researchers put themselves in the shoes of the local people and look through their eyes (Smith, 2005). The subject under focus may also act either consciously or unconsciously in favor of the ethnographer. In addition to the above challenges, the researcher may also be faced by ethical issues during research. The researcher may for instance, encounter a behavior that is perceived as unethical in their own culture and may be tempted to interfere. As the ethnographer lives with the subjects, there may be changes in the behavior of the people under study. This change is often caused by the presence of the researcher. Even with the challenges that are so glaring, ethnography still yields result that is useful to the society.


A subculture is a group of people who live around us in a predominant culture, but they have their own way of living. This group of people has a common beliefs and behaviors that make them different from the main stream culture. The factor that differentiates this group from the wide-culture group is there trend that is unique.

A subcultures is always evaluated on the basis of their religion, ethnic background, what they wear, what they look like and where they live. Subcultures have styles of dress, activity and music that is only typical to them. They share distinct patterns of folkways (casual norms), values, and mores (serious norms; norms with laws attached to them) that are different from the pattern of the larger society. They usually come up when the main stream culture does not live up to its objective of meeting the needs of everybody in the society. Those whose needs are not meet usually form the subculture.

It is more evident in this century that everyone belongs in a subculture of some kind which cuts them out from the larger mainstream cultural group.  The reason why these people need the subcultures is because they need a sense of belonging and unity.  Indeed, this is what a sub culture provides. It makes individuals to feel that they are not on their own. No individual belongs to exactly the same subcultures and this is what makes them unique.  Thus, apart from making people feel like they are not alone, a subculture allows people to be unique.

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Important in the current society is the study of culture. A closer look at various researches shows the so many studies carried out on different cultures. People are always out to study the cultures of other. It is an attempt to learn the reasons behave in a different manner from themselves. The study of culture is important as people get know why other view things in ways do and why their views are profoundly different.

Identifying a sub culture

There are various factors that should be present in a subculture. In fact, to Paul Hodkinson, a scholar in the studies of subculture and author of Four Indicators of (Sub)cultural Substance,  there are four things that the members of a group must have in order for the group to be a  subculture.

The first characteristic would be commitment. There must be a degree of commitment among the subculture members to their daily life patterns. These patterns may include among others: friendship patterns, going-out habits, shopping routines and even internet use. The other characteristic would be identity (Smith, 2005). The members have to a common sense of affiliation with each other and this should give distinction to the outsiders. It should create a perspective that is different from the outside group.

In addition to the above future there should be an element of distinctiveness. The set of values, ideals and tastes share d within the group should be consistent and distinct from those of the other group. The last feature as cited by the author is autonomy. The group must be independent and self governing. They do not rely on the mainstream culture in order to have what is needed for the group to move forward or function.

There are several examples of subcultures in our society just to list a few. There are homeless, graffiti subculture, new wave punk, military personal, wrestling auctioneers, football, and the elderly living in retirement homes.

The chosen subculture

The subculture under study for this research is the elderly people living in Santa Maria Terrace. This is a retirement home in Santa Barbara County. Santa Maria Terrace is an independent and assisted senior living retirement home. It is a nice, large, clean business located on East Main Street. Even though this is a business, one feels welcomed and comfortable at the facility. It is the perfect example of senior living home.

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There are many different kinds of activities for the people who live there to participate in. For instance, they might be watching movies, reading, and playing cards, having a family visit, or maybe walking in the nice green garden filled with flowers. Santa Maria Terrace has occupancy of about fifty elderly people, who all enjoy living there.

Reason for choosing to study the elderly people living at Santa Maria Terrace

There are several reasons as to why I chose the above subculture. The first being one day I went with my friend who washes cars for some of the people who work at Santa Maria Terrace, and also the cars that belong to the company, that take the elderly residents to places when they need to go. I went with my friend inside the building to get the keys of the cars to wash. As I was watching I really enjoyed what was going on. It was a really lovely and nice scene that I will never about. I saw an older man playing the piano, and three couples dancing. When I saw that, I thought that these people might be really happy where they live, even though they were no longer with their families.

The second reason why I became interested in this subculture is because where I come from we grow up being taught to respect elderly people. When we have somebody old in the family, one of the children will take care of them until their death, so respect for elders is the basis for the way society is organized and is the foundation of Syrian culture and morality, and has been for thousands of years. The part of Syria of where I am from is called Christian Valley. I have never heard or seen anything like a senior living home.

When I came to Santa Maria I was really surprised that almost everywhere I go there is a retirement home. It makes me wonder what are the reasons that some people let their loved one live in that kind of environment. But now, after I visited the home environment of Santa Maria Terrace, I understand how important these homes really are. I started to care more about elderly people, and one day I would like to own and run a retirement facility that is nice and pleasurable as this one (Hammersley and Atkinson , 2003).

The other reason why I chose this subculture is because of an interesting article that I read that reminds me of my culture and the way we take care of old people. The article captures the lives of the elderly at the Shiva Rules in India. India’s long culture of joint families and deeply rooted sense of respect for the elderly has created a situation where there is a strong stigma against putting one’s parents in a retirement home.

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The subculture is also within the criteria that were specified in this project. The criterion states that the subculture is supposed to be composed of five or more people joined by a common interest that involves some process of enculturation.  The subculture also must not participate in illegal or dangerous activities. Besides, I spoke with several informants whom I informed of my status as an observer prior to your conversations with them.

There are various ethnographical concepts that in the study of anthropology. They include among others: thick description; member checking; nonjudgmental orientation; culture; holistic perspective; contextualization; epic perspective. This project adopts some of these concepts in description of the stated subculture.

Method of collecting information for ethnography

Observation mainly refers to the use of visual skills to collect data for any particular study .For illustration, the observation of various phenomenon in an ethnographic study of the various communities. Observation of the particular groups helps discover various features that cannot be discovered through other methodologies of collecting information such as photography.

The method of observation especially in our case study enables the researcher get to view the first hand information of the Santa Maria community (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2003). However, the method of open observation may at times influence data collected by causing social consciousness of what is taking place within their environment-that is observation of the elderly subculture. The observation of the elderly may at times result to undesirable interference of the individuals since the elderly are at times very secretive in their dairy activities. Observation of ethnographic concepts in the subculture setting follows various important principals. These include

The range of issues to be considered:

In the ethnographic study involving participant observation various issues  that fling up special challenges for contestant watching, especially as they are  practiced in various social/cultural anthropological and cognate disciplines, include: the repeatedly long  nature of the border between researcher and the subjects of study; The wide array of interaction implicated, such as status difference among  the two parties, power differences and didactic differences, as well as  the degrees of regulation; In many instances, the study will be an intriguing place in settings that are alien to the researcher, making her/his presentation of self and dealings with others very sensitive. While ethical issues are time and again raised in the context of cultural differences the same kind of issues arises when one delves into familiar settings. Power differences rooted in gender, class and wellbeing require similar sensitivity; the ethical code of the parties under revision may be different from those of the investigator’s home country or home institution. They may also differ from the moral principles utilize by the Santa Maria subculture, and other related organizations in the region or the support agencies for the study; the potentially evolving the nature of the researcher’s role and affairs over any point in time (Smith, 2005).

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In addressing the particular  issues I put the following aspects into consideration; being the researcher and practicing in the participant  observations the researcher (myself) will play various roles in the research; be very  sensitive to differences of age, masculinity, class, wellbeing, and background  of the elderly in Santa Maria home which may cause some serious ethical issues on the participant observation; be aware of potential clashes in moral  principles, and give crucial moral obligations to  people being considered or being affected by the study of the Santa Maria subculture; I also put into consideration the evolving relationship roles and any moral issues arising from the participatory observation of the mini ethnography of the Santa Maria Subculture.

Stages in the Santa Maria research programme

The Research is aimed at thinking through the varying moral challenge through different stages of the study of the Santa Maria subculture, from issues aforementioned to fieldwork. Accurately since it is difficult to look forward to various moral issues, in the participatory observation of the Santa Maria subculture I had to frequently interrogate myself incessantly about the ethical issues resulting from the research.

Technical Recording ;While there are many of informal interactions with the members of the Santa Maria community, various encounters, annotations and ‘participations’ involved in the Santa Maria research, with the various ethical issues arising then more ‘technical’ activities produce their own meticulous moral issues. These moral issues include mapping, filming, video-taping, and photographing and other methods utilized in the study of the Santa Maria subculture.

Confidentiality; As with morals in the Santa Maria subculture generally the confidentiality of observed information is very important the most important since the taking of extreme care on the issues putting into consideration that one crosses from setting to setting in the Santa Maria community. The discretion of the contributor’s knowledge should be made overt to each informer as well as to the larger group of the Santa Maria subculture which provide   the setting of the research (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2003). But in various sub-cultural settings it will be central that the partaker Observer prudence is also communicated wholly and over time. In the study of the Santa Maria the confidentiality applies for all   information gathered in any section of the research programmed. (This may include various land-holding accounts, court cases and information gathered from records of members in our case study). The peculiarity amid unceremonious and more procedural interfaces applies in this participatory observation. Definite information gathered concerning health, cherished relations and viewpoints, or even financial data, are sensitive and require further reassurances to informants and those personally connected to them in the Santa Maria study.

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The Santa Maria subculture;

The Santa Maria subculture mainly made up of the elderly individuals in the society who have willingly opted to be in a silent and peaceful place where they can be taken care off during their sunset days. The subculture that develops in the Santa Maria homes ensures that the members of the elderly home share similar traits that acceptable to the members of the home. The Santa Maria subculture usually receives elderly individuals from various settings in the society. These setting include; wealthy, poor, employed, unemployed, healthy, ailing, religious and non-religious. These different backgrounds often determine the resultant features of the children homes .This is so in the subculture since the diversity of the individual backgrounds usually influences the interaction of the members in the subculture. The diversity of the members of the given subcultures also influences the ethnographic study of the specific member. This happens since the past of the informants –whether cherished or loathed determine whether they are willing to share the information to an ethnographic observer. The homogeneity of the communities in the Santa Maria subculture results to similarities in the main behaviors –despite personal inclinations and perceptions (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2003).

Features of the Subculture

An Age-Homogeneous Community

The similarity in the age of the members of the Santa Maria subculture results to similar character traits of the members since the members get cultured into the behaviors since they share the common fate of being in the community or subculture. For example, in the Santa Marias subculture the elderly view particular television programmers together since the pride and identity in joining into the activities of the rest of the members. The elderly also share in past life experiences of the subculture members since openness is one characteristic member enjoy. This acts as a binding force of the Santa Maria subculture.

Easy Socialization

The Santa Maria subculture enjoys easy socialization of the incoming members since the elderly look forward to getting new experiences and new friends during the sunset days. For example, through observation of the particular individuals during their first few days the new members are often met by surprisingly positive experiences during the first few days-unlike their expected expectations. The subculture in the Santa Maria community provides wealthy area to study the behavior of the elderly in the social setting

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The perception of socialization has customarily addressed the dilemma of human being modification to society. In all approaches shown above, socialization has, in many ways referred to the idea that humanity moulds its members in the direction of observance and collaboration with community necessities. In order to decrease bewilderment, a research tactic for measuring socialization, and potentially lead to the comparability of research findings from different studies. Rather it refers to a fuzzy implementation or learning of civilization in the Santa Maria’s culture.

According to the earlier approaches to socialization extensive socialization extends to every part of human social life. As a result all members of the Santa Maria community become a socializing agent and a apprentice in all the encounters with others members of the Santa Maria subculture .This contributes to the quick socialization since unlike the lower class socializations in the schools the elderly school of Santa Maria has people who have had experiences in the past and have a lot to teach and also have a choice to learn the new traits in the Santa Maria community or not. The socialization in the Santa Maria subculture is at times challenged by the experiences, health or financial class of the individual since these factors at time causes a divide among the members in the subculture. This however, changes as the members get to demystify their beliefs about the particular homes and the other elderly folks. Social classes also influence the socialization of the subculture since some parties may have a low opinion on the other thus hindering positive growth of the subculture (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2003).

Through observation of the Santa Maria subculture the secondary socializing about mortality I found out that a mixture of associations, behavioral changes, and withdrawal home culture contribute to a formation of courage concerning every body’s fate-death. The sub culture in the Santa Maria community promotes that accepting the final fate of life in a courageous manner. As per observations the much time available for thinking about the fate of every one’s life-death. The commonness of elderly people living together facilitates discussions of demise, which also helps to bring to terms the residents with their acceptance of humanity. Finally, the retirement home of the Santa Maria subculture encourages a culture of life and accomplishment in part to counter-act the occurrence of death. Some residents calculate there was one death per week in the Santa Maria sequestration home. In light of such bad statistics, it was significant to the accomplishment of the group of people to maintain an encouraging society within the subculture that embraces life yet acknowledged death. The Santa Maria subculture provides Marshall abundant factors contributing to the socialization of inhabitants into an optimistic lifestyle that was also accommodating of and opening towards their looming deaths.

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Religious personalities

Through the ethnographic study of the Santa Maria subculture in their abode one outstanding feature of the individuals is their respect for the most high. The knowledge of the impending death in subcultures members’ lives results to a religious conscious life. The members of the subcultures also enable the individual to learn the various ways of worship and meeting the creator .These socializations to the religious modes of life causes the members of the Santa Maria subculture to learn the importance of death and how religion improves the life of the individuals even after death. The promises for example, those found in the holy bible serve to encourage the individual members of the subculture on death. This ultimately leads to conformity of the other non-religious members of the sub culture. The need to identify with the society and the need for companionship most of the time while in the Santa Maria community also contributes to the religious socialization

Law abiding personalities

The consistent phobia of the old people being molested by their younger counterparts results to great fear among the old individuals who always see the young as individuals who may not be that caring and may neglect the individuals resulting to uncalled for suffering. The knowledge that their death also looms around causes the Santa Maria subculture to have a high need to observe the rules since consciousness about the reward that comes with being lawful and kind to mankind always echoes in the minds of the subculture members thus cultivating a law conscious Santa Maria .The dislike of the law breakers by the subculture’s members also enable the individuals to observe high levels of morality amongst themselves (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2003).

Consumer conscious culture

The consumer culture in the Santa Maria subculture also leads to conformity on the behavioral modes of all members who wish to join and associate with the given sub culture. This is so since the members of any subculture pride themselves in utilizing particular commodities. For illustration, the owners of the Harley Davidson model of bikes. Similarly, the Santa Maria sub culture also provides insights on the suitable dress code for specific occasions in the Santa Maria community. Dressing codes  shifted dramatically in the Santa Maria communities as  people  dress more  on clothes that are prefer by members of the Santa Maria subculture The trends and effects of the Santa Maria subculture also influences the language and various values among the society members .This has  come a long way to see the brands consumed by influential individuals in the subculture being transferred to other  individuals who would choose conforming to the given trends for companionship and a sense of belonging to the subculture.

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To acquire an ordinary civilization, the members of a civilization must be able to commune with each other through a familiar language. Without a universal language, shared denotation could not exist, and true message would not take place.

To communicate effectively the subculture members use appropriate symbols to communicate preferred product images or characteristics to other members –mostly new members. This secret code can be vocal or nonverbal. Verbal symbols may include personal expressions of dislike of other fashions by the main sub cultural members. Nonverbal statements include the use of symbols such as figures, colors and even textures to provide additional denotation.

Through participatory observation the effects of the Santa Maria sub culture were quite visible in the community. The ethnographic study reveals that various anthropological issues are portrayed in the Santa Maria subculture.


The effects of the subculture in Santa Maria as shown by the participatory observation reveal in-depth features of the Santa Maria subculture. The observations of these sub cultural tendencies often reveal more information concerning the subcultures consisting of the elderly individuals. The consumer effects of the sub cultures can be utilized by marketers for sales of various commodities utilized by the elderly in society. The Santa Maria community is a rich subculture setting for research concerning the various aspects of the elderly population.

 This should be considered when making various policies concerning the elderly in our societies. The Santa Maria subculture should provides an in-depth study through participatory observation which requires keen and timely observation to ensure distinctive features of the population are captured in the study. For illustration, the identification of the distinctive dressing code in the Santa Maria subculture requires both timely and consistent participatory observation which would bring out the specific traits of study. The study of the subculture also supports the ethnographic approaches used by having various parties that are willing to provide the necessary information for a conclusive study (Smith, 2005).

 The ethnographical study of the Santa Maria subculture also helps reveal the reason as to why various distinctive traits in the individuals exist. For illustration, the existence of God fearing individuals in the Santa Maria subculture is as a result of the knowledge of the looming fate-death. The acceptance of the fact that death with the knowledge of God can be utmost fulfilling results to the religion conscious subculture (Smith, 2005).

Finally the study of the Santa Maria subculture through participatory observation provides a good opportunity to experience firsthand information on some aspects that have not been revealed before.


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