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Critical Ethnography

Critical Ethnography
Method, Ethics, and Performance

Third Edition
  • D. Soyini Madison - Northwestern University, USA, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, USA

February 2019 | 272 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

"Critical Ethnography is a rare and beautiful synthesis of deft theorizing and principled pragmatics. The complexities of ethnography demand a grasp of both theory and practice, but rarely have they come together so clearly and completely as in this passionately written text. I especially appreciate the thoughtful attention to the intellectual roots of the critical tradition in ethnography, and to the way students are rigorously led through the methodological consequences of critical epistemology."

 —Judith Hamera, Texas A&M University

"I would strongly recommend this book for use in any course that explores the role of critical analysis in research. This book thoughtfully discusses and teaches about trying to understand the meanings attributed by others in regard to their expertise."

—Amy Paul-Ward, Florida International University

What is critical ethnography? How do we use theory to interpret research data? What is performance ethnography? Readers can find answers to these fundamental questions in D. Soyini Madison's engaging and highly multidisciplinary Third Edition of Critical Ethnography: Methods, Ethics, and Performance

The book presents a fresh new look at critical ethnography by emphasizing the significance of ethics and performance in the art and politics of fieldwork. The productive links between theory and method are celebrated in this title. Theoretical concepts range from queer theory, feminist theory, and critical race theory to Marxism and phenomenology. The methodological techniques range from designing and asking in-depth interview questions and developing rapport to coding and interpreting data. The various theories and methods culminate in three fictional ethnographic case studies that "enact" the interdependence between theory and method and the significance of social theory, ethics, and performance.

Chapter 1 • Introduction to Critical Ethnography: Theory and Method
Defining Terms: What Is the Critical in Critical Ethnography?

Dialogue: Virtues and Challenges

The Method and Theory Nexus

Key Terms


Chapter 2 • Methods: “Do I Really Need a Method?” A Method . . . or Deep Hanging Out?
“Who Am I?” Starting Where You Are

“Who Else Has Written About My Topic?” Being a Part of an Interpretive Community

The Power of Purpose: Bracketing Your Subject

Preparing for the Field: The Research Design and Lay Summary

The Interview

Formulating Questions

Questions to Get Started: Experience, Opinions, Feelings, and the Senses

Creativity, Questions, and Three Favorites

Memory and the Oral History Interview

Rapport: How and What Is This Between Us?

Coding and Logging Data

A Biomimetics of Ethnography


Chapter 3 • Three Stories: Case Studies in Critical Ethnography
Case 1: Local Activism in West Africa

Case 2: Secrets, Sexuality, and Oral History

Case 3: Community Theatre: Conflicts and Organization


Chapter 4 • Ethics
Ethics Is . . .

Ethics, Faith, and Environmental Activism

The Question of Freedom

Maria Lugones: Contemporary Ethics, Ethnography, and Loving Perception



Chapter 5 • Methods and Application: Three Case Studies in Ethical Dilemmas
Case 1: Local Activism in West Africa

Case 2: Secrets, Sexuality, and Oral History

Case 3: Community Theatre: Conflicts and Organization


Chapter 6 • Performance and Performed Ethnography
Foundational Concepts in Performance and Social Theory

Utopian Performatives

The Performance Interventions of Dwight Conquergood

Staging Ethnography as Performed Ethnography

Autoethnography and/or Reflexive Ethnography

Autoethnography in Performance as Critical Reflections


Chapter 7 • It’s Time to Write: Writing as Performance
Getting Started: In Search of the Muse

The Anxiety of Writing: Wild Mind and Monkey Mind

Writing as Performance and Performance as Writing


Chapter 8 • The Case Studies
Case 1: Staging Cultural Performance

Case 2: Oral History and Performance

Case 3: Fieldwork and Social Drama


About the Author

Critical Ethnography is, without question, the go-to guide, practically and philosophically, for anyone interested in serious discussions about ethnography's ethical, political, and epistemological implications.  Madison's thoughtful and compelling book has long been central to the ways in which I work with my graduate students and undergraduates on the benefits and challenges of thinking ethnographically, and this 3rd edition makes her classic offering all the more relevant for newer audiences.  I look forward to assigning it in courses!”

John L. Jackson, Jr
University of Pennsylvania

“This remains the book I wish I had written. It is grounded in fieldwork and theoretically inclusive from Conquergood to Turner, Spry to Schechner, Pollock to Pelias, Boal to Bakhtin, auto ethnography to critical performance ethnography. Politics, ethics, action, memory, biopolitics, performative writing, the global, inquiry as praxis, it is all here.”

Norman Denzin
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

“This book is indispensable.  No other book shows the essential connections between method and ethics so clearly and effectively.  It is as much an essential introduction to ethnography as it is an enticing invitation to a way of being in the world with others.”

Della Pollock

“D. Soyini Madison’s work is the keystone of ethical performance ethnography where all practices in the field and on the stage are grounded in enfleshed theories of embodiment.  The third edition of Critical Ethnography continues this scholarly foundation by offering emergent strategies to guide us through troubling times and into spaces and places of hope and possibilities.”

Tami Spry
St. Cloud State University

“The latest edition of Critical Ethnography exemplifies D. Soyini Madison¹s exemplary ability to combine rigorous theorizing and principled field pragmatics. From its expansive discussions of ethics and handling difficult interviews to its deeply generative examinations of mindfulness in the field and multi-sensory storytelling using a variety of aesthetic modes, this book is an essential guide for critical interdisciplinary qualitative researchers at all levels. It is both a toolkit and an inspiration.”

Judith Hamera
Princeton University

I was not able to teach the Thesis 2 qualitative class this year, but Madison is the best. Her explanations are clear and practical, yet still steeped in theory.

Dr Michael Boucher
Education And Human Development, Texas A&M Univ-San Antonio
March 12, 2024
Key features


  • Mindfulness has been added as a methodology to the Ethics sections, helping students cope with negative thoughts and emotions.
  • An enumeration of conversation on rethinking Empathy as a method makes the content easier to digest.
  • Discussion of Cultural and Aesthetic performances as PerformED Ethnography bridges communications studies and drama and theater.
  • Ethnographic Methods through the lens of Biomemicry enable students to develop a well-rounded understanding of different methods.
  • New examples of Performative Writing and Authoethnography bring concepts to life.
  • Extended key terms on Sexuality, Post- Colonial Theory, and Intersectionality provide students with additional context on these topics.
  • Comprehensive: Incorporating additional extended discussions on theories and methods, thereby providing the reader with a broad range of considerations and choices.

  • Cutting-edge approach and perspective: It is the first book to explore and focus on the intersections between theory, fieldwork methods, performance, and praxis.

  • Global examples and material: Theories, methods, and examples are drawn from scholarship that extends beyond the West to include developing world and post-colonial thinkers and practitioners.

  • Effective pedagogy: Provides the reader multiple opportunities to absorb the ideas in each chapter, put them into action through lively exercises and offers extended examples with explanations which provide alternative views to key concepts presenting a rich learning experience.

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