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Utilising ethnography and participant observation in festival and event research

Dewi Jaimangal-Jones (Welsh Centre for Tourism Research, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff, UK)

International Journal of Event and Festival Management

ISSN: 1758-2954

Article publication date: 11 March 2014




The purpose of this paper is to explore the issues surrounding the use of ethnography and participant observation in event studies. It considers the role and benefits of participant observation in terms of understanding event audiences and provides examples of the range of participant motivations and preferences such approaches can reveal and explore. As a methodological paper it focuses on the processes, challenges and benefits surrounding the utilisation of ethnographic methods within events research, with specific examples taken from an ethnographic study into contemporary dance music culture to contextualise the discussion.


Ethnography and participant observation are flexible research approaches characterised by varying levels of participation in and observation of different cultural groups and activities. This paper focuses specifically on participant observation revolving around field trips, focus groups, internet research and key informant interviews.


The challenges facing ethnographic researchers studying event audiences include identifying opportunities for observation and participation, identity negotiation for different research settings, their positioning on the participant observer spectrum, recruiting participants, recording data and the extent to which research takes an overt or covert approach, bearing in mind ethics and participant reactivity. It concludes that once these challenges are addressed, this multifaceted approach provides a valuable avenue for researchers exploring the range of socio-cultural forces at play surrounding event audiences and their experiences.


It advocates a shift from attempts to quantify audience motivations and experiences, to methods which seek to understand them more fully through focusing on the entirety of the event experience and the influence of surrounding cultural networks and discourses.



Jaimangal-Jones, D. (2014), "Utilising ethnography and participant observation in festival and event research", International Journal of Event and Festival Management, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 39-55.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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