EPDF and EPUB available Open Access under CC-BY-NC-ND licence. Human service work is performed in many places – hospitals, shelters, households, prisons, schools, clinics – and is characterised by a complex mixture of organising principles, relations and rules. Using ethnographic methods, researchers can investigate these site-specific complexities, providing multi-dimensional and compelling analyses.
Bringing together both theoretical and practical material, this book shows researchers how ethnography can be carried out within human service settings. It provides an invaluable guide on how to apply ethnographic creativeness and offers a more humanistic and context-sensitive approach in the field of health and social care to generating valid knowledge about today’s service work.
Once the exclusive method of sociologists and anthropologists, the use of ethnography in social research—broadly in situ participant observation—has expanded across disciplines and settings. Ethnography now appears prominently in social work, public health, management, nursing and criminology, among other disciplines, with settings of interest across the board. Ethnography now tends to be less about societies as a whole and more about specific characteristics of the whole, such as language variation, narrative structures, migration, gender, race, class, age organization, power differentials and diverse human needs. From the start, its findings have proven to be enormously important in challenging prejudicial beliefs, unjust social arrangements and biased public policies. Doing Human Service Ethnography takes some of its significance from this research context.
Additional significance stems from the specific purpose of the book, which is to recognize that ethnography, despite having general features that apply in all disciplines, has substantive and procedural characteristics specific to particular fields of application. The field of human service provision is no exception. Being field specific, we refer to it as ‘human service ethnography’. The goal of human service ethnography is to make visible forms of service-related personal experience and social organization that are either unrecognized, misunderstood or otherwise hidden from view. This relates in particular to areas of service provider and recipient experiences and complexities otherwise taken for granted or trivialized in the simplifying practices of accountability. This is especially pertinent in the current public policy environment where trends for evaluating human service work are decidedly non-ethnographic, favouring rampant quantification.