Application of Ethnographic Methods Essay

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Practicing Ethnographic Methods

JFK (John F. Kennedy) International Airport is one of the busiest international airports in the United States and serves as a gateway for the New York City and other Tri-State within the metropolitan regions. Apart from enjoying services from the Jet Blue, and Virgin America, the JFK airport is the major destination for visitors from various continents such as Europe, South America, Asia, Middle East and Africa. The JFK airport receives over 41 million visitors yearly making the airport the busiest international gateway in the New York. However, airports are the social-based organization where the visitors and employees come from various social and cultural backgrounds, which influence the airport decision making.

Objective of this paper is to carry out the ethnographic research by presenting the results of the observation of the social and cultural settings at the John F. Kenney International Airport.


I use the ethnographic method to carry out the research. The ethnographic is the type of a social research that takes a strong emphasis on exploring the social and natural contexts of phenomena. The aim of the ethnographic research is to deliver raw social data based on the actual behaviors required to understand the social process. (Kusenbach, 2003). Thus, the method I use to collect data is through observation with minimum active interaction with the observed subjects as well as minimize activities that could obstruct the information recorded. The paper discusses the results of my observation during my visit to the airport.


I visited the JKF international airport two times to carry out my observations after the authorizations from the airport authorities, and I use 3 hours for each visit. Typically, I observe the setting during each visit and the results of my observations are as follows.

Description of the Physical and Social Setting Studying

The two visits makes me to record over 150 observations that include the physical location, detail about the physical setting as well as the people involved. From my observation, the JFK international airport consists of 6 terminals and the terminals are numbered Terminal 1-8 because the Terminal 6 and Terminal 3 have been demolished in 2011 and 2013 respectively. Typically, all the terminals are designed in U -- Shaped. Since it is not possible to make a close observation on all the terminals because of the time factor, I carry out my observation on the Terminal 4 only.

The Terminal 4 of the JFK airport is designed in U-shaped and able to accommodate the Airbus A380. From my observation, the Terminal 4 is the major gateway to the JFK airport. Typically, the Terminal building is around 140,000 m2 (1,500,000 square feet) and I counted 26 gates within the Terminal 4, and terminal provides the services to many international airlines that include KLM, Swiss International Airlines, Egypt Air, Singapore Airlines, and Emirates.

During my observation, I notice several categories of people at the Terminal 4. The people include security personnel such as police, immigration and custom officers. I also observe numbers of airport passengers, some of them have just arrived from their different destinations while some people are about to board the plane. From my observation, I see that there is a kind of social behaviors among the security officers because hardly do I see a security officer moving alone, they always move in pairs or group. Walking in pairs enhances their social interaction.

However, the social behaviors of the passengers are different because passengers' activity is on a peak when they are entering the main lobby or seeking first information from the screens, or queuing in line. I also observe that both passenger and employee engage in killing time when there is nothing to do and the favorite strategy to kill the time is by engaging in conversation among one another.

Description of behaviors that Follow or Violate Cultural "Rules"

I observe several behaviors that follow and violate cultural rules during my two visits at the airport. Some of the behaviors that follow the rules is that the passengers always follow the queue when they about to board the plane and none of them attempts to jump the queue. Moreover, the newly arriving visitors who are ready to be checked by the immigration officers are always on the queue and allowed themselves to be checked one-by -one by the officers. Essentially, the behavior of employees in the airport show that they are following the general rules and procedures laid down by the airport authority. Despite some behaviors in the airport that follow the general rules, there are still some behaviors that violate the general rules. For example, the screener on the checking point always manually checks the airbag of all the women passing the checking points. However, the screener allowed a woman to pass through without checking her handbag on the pretext that she trusted that she could not put illegal items in her bag. Moreover, I notice that the security officers intentionally ignore some threats on the ground they are false alarms. From my observation, the behavior of the officers is against the rules laid down by the airport authority, however, officers working in group are likely to abide by the rules that an employee working alone.

Description of what I learn about the Cultural Scenes

I learned several cultural scenes during my two visits to the airport. First, there was a strong cultural diversity among the passengers. From my observation, the language difference of the passengers reflects in their way of dressing, and behaviors. Typically, people who speak the same language associate with one another and avoid mixing with people who speak different languages. The major reason is the language barrier among the passengers. I notice some Chinese passengers arriving with the KLM group themselves together discussing with one another. From my observations, the Chinese feel secure with other Chinese that any passenger from another country. Moreover, I observe that passengers with a strong ethnic difference avoid mixing with one another even if they speak the same language. For example, in the KLM, some Indian passengers avoid missing with the English passengers despite that they can communicate with one another using English language. The other cultural scene remarked is that the way of dressing reflects the citizen of each passenger. Almost half of the passengers dress in a way that reflects their countries of origins.

Description of what is Important or Interesting about what I Learned

The important thing about what I learn is that the airport setting is one of the places to study the social and cultural relationships of people. Typically, airport is a place where there is a strong social interaction among employees and non-employees. I learn that it is easy to identify people who have just come to the United States for the first time because their cultural backgrounds will reflect in their dressing, the language and intonation.

I learn that the more people are staying in the U.S., the more their cultural orientation blends with the U.S. cultural orientation. For example, many employees at the Terminal 4 in the JFK international airport are immigrants from other countries who have naturalized themselves, however they are able to mix up easily with American-born employees. My findings reveal that the more people stay in the United States, the more their cultural and ethnical difference decline and ability to adapt with the American cultural orientation increases.

Description of my Reactions to being an "Outsider"

Inability to socialize with people is one of my reactions being outsider. I like associating with people within a social setting especially a social setting such as airport, although, some people are interested in socializing with me at the airport, however, I minimize my social influence with people as much as possible in order not to interfere with my ethnographic results.…[continue]

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