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Ethnography vs. Ethnology — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on October 23, 2023
Ethnography is the detailed study of a culture or society based on fieldwork, while Ethnology is the comparative study of cultures to understand human societies.
Ethnography vs. Ethnology — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Ethnography and Ethnology


Key Differences

Ethnography and Ethnology are both disciplines within cultural anthropology, but they serve distinct purposes and methodologies. Ethnography delves deep into the practices, rituals, and daily lives of specific groups, often through immersive fieldwork. On the other hand, Ethnology takes a broader lens, comparing and contrasting different cultures to draw general conclusions.
Researchers practicing Ethnography typically immerse themselves in the community they study, observing and participating to gather detailed insights. Contrarily, Ethnologists usually rely on existing ethnographic accounts, analyzing them to identify patterns, similarities, or differences across cultures.
The objective of Ethnography often is to produce a rich, holistic account of a particular society's way of life. Ethnology, meanwhile, seeks to categorize and compare these ways of life, providing a higher-level understanding of cultural dynamics across various societies.
While Ethnography might produce an in-depth description of a single ritual in a community, Ethnology might compare this ritual to similar practices in other societies, exploring the underlying cultural or social reasons for similarities or differences.
It's essential to appreciate both Ethnography and Ethnology in anthropology. The former offers detailed snapshots of specific cultures, while the latter provides a broader picture, aiding in the understanding of the spectrum of human cultural practices.

Comparison Chart


Detailed study of a specific culture or society.
Comparative study of multiple cultures.


Immersive fieldwork.
Analysis of existing ethnographic data.


Provide a holistic account of a society's way of life.
Understand cultural dynamics across societies.


Descriptions of specific cultural practices.
Comparisons and contrasts of cultural practices.


Narrow, specific to one culture.
Broader, encompasses multiple cultures.

Compare with Definitions


The descriptive study of individual cultures.
The ethnography presented a detailed account of the community's marriage customs.


The science of classifying and analyzing cultures.
Through ethnology, we can discern patterns in human behavior across cultures.


A methodological study of cultures through close observation and immersion.
His ethnography on the Amazonian tribes provided invaluable insights into their rituals.


The study of the characteristics of various peoples and their differences and relationships.
Ethnology revealed the shared ancestry of several tribes in the region.


A written account detailing a specific culture's practices and beliefs.
Her ethnography on urban youth subcultures became a best-seller.


The comparative study of different cultures.
Ethnology helps us understand the similarities between diverse societies.


The practice of studying societies in their natural settings.
Through ethnography, anthropologists gain firsthand insights into cultural practices.


A discipline examining cultural phenomena across societies.
Her focus in ethnology is on ritual practices across Southeast Asian communities.


Ethnography (from Greek ἔθνος ethnos "folk, people, nation" and γράφω grapho "I write") is a branch of anthropology and the systematic study of individual cultures. Ethnography explores cultural phenomena from the point of view of the subject of the study.


An analytical and comparative approach to understanding cultures.
He used ethnology to draw parallels between ancient civilizations.


The branch of anthropology that deals with the description of specific human cultures, using methods such as close observation and interviews.


Ethnology (from the Greek: ἔθνος, ethnos meaning 'nation') is an academic field that compares and analyzes the characteristics of different peoples and the relationships between them (compare cultural, social, or sociocultural anthropology).


A text produced using such methods.


The branch of anthropology that analyzes and compares human cultures, as in social structure, language, religion, and technology; cultural anthropology.


(anthropology) The branch of anthropology that scientifically describes specific human cultures and societies.


(anthropology) The branch of anthropology that studies and compares the different human cultures.


An ethnographic work.


The science which treats of the division of mankind into races, their origin, distribution, and relations, and the peculiarities which characterize them.


That branch of knowledge which has for its subject the characteristics of the human family, developing the details with which ethnology as a comparative science deals; descriptive ethnology. See Ethnology.


The branch of anthropology that deals with the division of humankind into races and with their origins and distribution and distinctive characteristics


The branch of anthropology that provides scientific description of individual human societies


Fieldwork conducted to understand a culture from an insider's perspective.
His two-year ethnography in Tibet revealed the intricacies of monastic life.

Common Curiosities

Why is ethnology important in anthropology?

Ethnology provides a broader perspective, helping understand patterns and differences across cultures.

How does ethnology differ in approach from ethnography?

Ethnology compares and contrasts cultures, while ethnography focuses on detailed study of one culture.

What's the primary goal of ethnography?

Ethnography aims to provide a detailed, in-depth understanding of a specific culture or society.

Can an ethnography be based on multiple societies?

Typically, ethnography focuses on one society, but multiple ethnographies can be used in ethnology for comparison.

Is ethnology more theoretical compared to ethnography?

Yes, ethnology often involves more theoretical analyses, while ethnography is more observational.

Can one be both an ethnographer and an ethnologist?

Yes, many anthropologists engage in both ethnographic fieldwork and ethnological analysis.

Do ethnographers typically live with the communities they study?

Yes, ethnographers often immerse themselves in the community to gain deep insights.

Does ethnology require fieldwork like ethnography?

Not necessarily. Ethnologists often analyze existing ethnographic data.

Can ethnography be applied to online communities?

Yes, digital or netnography studies online communities using ethnographic methods.

Does ethnology prioritize one culture over another?

No, ethnology seeks to compare cultures without placing them in a hierarchy.

Can ethnography be applied to modern urban settings?

Absolutely, ethnography can be applied to any cultural setting, modern or traditional.

Why is immersion crucial for ethnography?

Immersion allows ethnographers to see the world from the community's perspective, ensuring authentic insights.

Is ethnology static in its conclusions?

No, as new cultures are studied and societies evolve, ethnological conclusions can change.

Are there ethical concerns with ethnography?

Yes, issues like consent, representation, and impact on the community are important in ethnographic work.

What sources do ethnologists rely upon?

Ethnologists often use ethnographies, historical records, and other comparative data.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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