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Ethnography and Comparative Housing Research


  • Richard Ronald


Housing systems across advanced societies are typically compared in terms of quantitative measures of aggregate variables, with little regard for local complexity, diversity and cultural contingency. This paper seeks, through the exploration of ethnographic techniques, to reflect on both the meaningfulness of quantitative comparative studies that neglect local differences as well as qualitative research designs that fail to embed informant discourses with material, cultural and historic contexts. Ethnographic investigations have been rare among housing studies, despite their capacity to connect structural and subjective dimensions of social reality. The first part of the paper explores how ethnography has been applied in urban and housing research. The second considers a particular ethnographic study of Japanese housing consumption as a means to illustrate its comparative application. A specific concern is the disposition of the ethnographer as an outsider and both the cultural and analytical reflexivity realised through the process of acquiring insider perspectives. The paper concludes by considering the ways ethnography may contribute further to the development of comparative understanding in housing research.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard Ronald, 2011. "Ethnography and Comparative Housing Research," International Journal of Housing Policy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(4), pages 415-437, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:intjhp:v:11:y:2011:i:4:p:415-437
    DOI: 10.1080/14616718.2011.626605

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