Media Ethnography: The Television Evolution

Ethnography is “the recording and analysis of a culture or society, usually based on participant-observation and resulting in a written account of a people, place or institution” (Coleman and Simpson n.d.). As Anderson (2009) discusses in the Harvard Business Review, an ethnographers goal is to view people’s behaviour on their terms. He explains that conducting ethnographic research for companies such as Intel has influenced their strategic decision making.

This shows that ethnography is a multifaceted research practice that isn’t limited to anthropology, but cultures within business, media and beyond can also be analysed. In order to further understand ethnography and its benefit to research, it is also important to reflect on self practices. This is known as autoethnography, which is “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience” (Ellis et al. 2011).

Within media, autoethnography can be undertaken by thinking about past experiences using different types of media. This can then assist in understanding societal impact of media by taking the viewpoint of an active participant. Take television for example, the common household device was once a phenomenon and a privilege. It has not only physically evolved though improving technology, but the way we watch TV has also evolved and ethnography can help us understand how.


Credit: Kevin Ventura

Firstly, I would like to discuss my own experiences of television in the home. As mentioned, the way we use TV has evolved and understanding this allows us to see the shift in society it has caused. TV has always been a part of my daily routine for as long as I can remember. When I was around primary school age this included the endless cartoons and pre-teen shows that I watched in either the lounge room or my own room. TV was just something I always expected to have.

In contrast, I spoke to my father about his experiences growing up with television in the 70’s and 80’s. Watching the TV as a ‘family only’ activity was a common occurrence, as well as the lack of channels and programmes compared to today’s availability. A fond TV memory I have between my father and I is probably quite different to a lot of other people. Growing up, I remember I would always have a curfew of when I needed to stop doing what I was doing and go to bed, the exact times would change with age.

My dad knew I wasn’t to be trusted with this curfew and that I would always stay up longer and watch the TV in my room or use it to play video games. To combat this, he would take the TV remote out and put it in the lounge room. It was always conveniently placed on the ironing board which was located right outside of the hallway which led to my bedroom. However, my dad used to frequently fall asleep on the lounge while watching TV himself. This made the sneaky act of stealing the remote back all the more scary.


Credit: Vlue

From my story, we can look at TV in such an interesting way. The idea that I would sneak around and take my remote back to immerse myself back into the world that the TV created, and that the spoken curfew meant I wasn’t supposed to and this made the experience entirely different. The physical barrier to this world was also so easily broken (I also later realised I could just press the buttons on the side of the TV).

Conducting this autoethnographic study of my own TV usage, as well as speaking to my father has shown how much television has evolved both technologically and how it is viewed by society. TV is now something that rooms are literally built around, for example my room uses the television as a centerpiece in my cabinet display. 39027543_2097874470540434_6860380029591748608_n.jpg

Reference list:

Anderson, K 2009, ‘Ethnographic Research: A Key to Strategy’, Harvard Business Review, viewed 6 August 2018, <>.

Coleman, S and Simpson, B n.d. Ethnography, Discover Anthropology, viewed 6 August 2018, <>.

Ellis, C, Adams, T & Bochner, A 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, art. 10, <>.

Header Image Source: Pawel Kadysz

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