International Journal of
Sociology and Anthropology

  • Abbreviation: Int. J. Sociol. Anthropol.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2006-988X
  • DOI: 10.5897/IJSA
  • Start Year: 2009
  • Published Articles: 321


History of ethnography: Straitening the records

Chidi Ugwu
  • Chidi Ugwu
  • Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Faculty of the Social Sciences University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria.
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 22 May 2016
  •  Accepted: 28 July 2016
  •  Published: 31 July 2017


Scholars who hold onto the view that Morgan pioneered formal ethnography and Malinowski systematized participant observation seem to be glossing over significant information on the history of ethnography. It, obviously, does not hold to say that all the efforts before Morgan were amateurish and unsystematized, and therefore brand them pre-ethnology – for there is on record at least one pre-Morgan scholar, Joseph François Lafitau, who fulfilled our present definition of ethnography more than Morgan managed to do later. Further, some give Branislow Malinowski the credit for the systematization of participant observation (the cardinal method in ethnographic fieldwork) for his fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands from 1914 to 1918. Some records show, however, that Frank Cushing – who had finished his own fieldwork about 30 years before Malinowski’s (1879 to 1884) – had done the things for which some scholars still regard Malinowski as the pioneer of scholarly participant observation. Following a critical re-reading of typical writings on the history of ethnography, the study shows that all the materials in which the history of the systematization of ethnography begins with Morgan, and in which the systematization of participant observation begins with Malinowski, need to be reviewed.          

Key words: Branislow Malinowski, formalized ethnography, Frank Hamilton Cushing, Joseph François Lafitau, Lewis Henry Morgan, pioneer participant observer.