Coding, Reading, and Writing Culture as an Interpretive and Applied Human Science: A Proposed Monograph Series

In June of 2014, Dr. Whitehead retired from the University of Maryland to try to find the time to write a book organized around the Cultural Ecology of Health and Change (the CEHC),. The CEHC is a complex system of research methods and materials that evolved from his 45-year career straddling public/community health, anthropology, and ethnography.  The CEHC consists of three conceptual paradigms and four program systems designed to bring greater standardization in the use of ethnographic research methods in the collection of data that would contribute to the design, implementation, and evaluation of more effective community health program outcomes.  Thus as Whitehead began revising his working papers, published works, and project reports that he had produced over the years, he realized that there was too much there for one book.  So he developed a plan for developing a series of shorter monographs (60-150 pages), with each focusing on some component(s) of the CEHC.   Following are progress report summaries of the first three monographs in development.

Proposal for Monograph 1: From Accidental Anthropologist to Man in the Middle to the Cultural Ecology of Health and Change.  The first draft of this monograph is 75% complete. It presents Dr. Whitehead’s background on becoming an “accidental anthropologist,” and the professional experiences leading to his becoming a” man in the middle” between the disciplinary cultures of public/community health and anthropology. In the first two chapters of this monograph, Dr. Whitehead shares some of his long history of working with community health researchers (CHRs), and their emphasis on “science,” and why they, as well as many anthropologists (e.g., Geertz, 1973), do not consider cultural anthropology’s primary research enterprise, ethnography, as science.   Early on in his career, Whitehead concludes that what CHRs, as well as most other social scientists, posit as a key attribute of what they consider to be science, is an emphasis on standardization of methodology. At the same time, he found that most cultural anthropologists had traditionally opposed methodological standardization in ethnography, while valuing the descriptive and interpretive reporting provided by the individual ethnographer of his or her research findings. It was later in his career that Whitehead came to conclude that the methodological standardization in research that was insisted on by those referring to themselves as scientists was actually a “language” or codified system used to communicate their research methods and findings to their students and colleagues. Such standardized coding systems were sparse in anthropological ethnography.  Moreover, Whitehead found that the more standardized approaches to ethnography to which he had been introduced, such as the Human Relations Area Files, Ethnosemantics, Cultural Models, and Cultural Domain Analysis, were not suitable for the public/community health work in which he was involved.  This process led to his eventual realization that the three CEHC paradigms that he had developed to guide the design, implementation, and data analysis of dozens of community health ethnographic and qualitative research over his career, were actually the coding systems for which he was searching.  Along with the CEHC system of research methodologies that he had developed, and the rigor for implementing these methodologies, he concludes, he had indeed created an alternative and complementary model of human science, one utilizing ethnography’s traditional approach to interpretation.  The remainder of this monograph builds on his Introduction to the CEHC Working Paper, and provides descriptions of the various components of the CEHC’s paradigms and methodological systems.

Graphic Illustrations and Tabular Summaries of CEHC Components.  One of the primary appendices at the end of Monograph 1 summarized above is Appendix 2. It includes: (1) graphic illustrations of the three CEHC paradigms, which are the coding systems used to design, implement, and evaluate community based participatory research (CBPR) projects; and (2) tables providing excerpts from some of the CEHC’s ethnographic research systems.

Monograph 2: Whitehead, T.L. Classical/Basic Ethnography and the Cultural Systems Paradigm. The primary research system of the CEHC is titled, Introduction to Ethnographically Informed Community and Cultural Assessment Research Systems (EICCARS)"The EICCARS is a multi-method tool kit, which consists of methods that Dr. Whitehead has categorized as Classical/Basic Ethnographic Methods, and (2) Complementary Ethnographic Research Methods Particularly Useful in Applied Work. This monograph will focus on classical/basic ethnographic methods, including secondary data analysis, ethnographic fieldwork as its core method, a variety of observation and participant observation methods, a variety of ethnographic interview methods, and methods for the interpretation and analysis of EICCARS data sets.  These are methods that have been traditionally used by ethnographers and thus the term classical is used in the title. The word basic is used because all five of these items should be included for a research method to be considered ethnography. The inclusion of these classical/basic methods, particularly fieldwork, is what distinguishes ethnography from any other method that is referred to as qualitative.  This monograph will include the integration of components of several of Whitehead’s working papers, including the Introduction to EICCARS paper mentioned above, and others, such as: "What is Ethnography? Methodological, Ontological, and Epistemological Attributes";  "Basic Classical Ethnographic Methods"; "The Cultural Systems Paradigm (CSP)"; "Workbook for Reading, Recording, and Interpreting Data from Social Settings, Scenes, Acts, Activities & Events”; and Social/Community Profile Indicators.    Dr. Whitehead invites any colleagues working in the area of basic ethnographic methods and may be interested in assisting him in completing and finalizing this monograph as chapter co-authors, to contact him at

Monograph 3:  Whitehead, et al,  Ethnographic Assessment of a Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Ethnographic Field School (EFS) Focused on Racism. While the first monograph introduces the range of CEHC paradigms and program systems, and the second focuses on the EICCARS toolkit and one CEHC paradigm, the CSP, this third monograph presents: more on the use of specific EICCARS methodologies; another of the CEHC’s paradigm, the Cultural Systems Approach to Change (the CSAC); and another of the CEHC’s program systems, Ethnographic Assessment and Evaluation Systems (EAES), and the EAES four subsystems of formative, process, outcome, and impact assessment/evaluation. The field school being assessed is the 2013 Heath Equity Alliance of Tallahassee (HEAT) EFS, a CBPR effort that focuses on the role of racism in US health disparities.  A first draft of this monograph is 75% complete. Once this first draft is complete, it will be passed on to the directors of this NSF-University of Florida sponsored field school (entering its 5th year), their Tallahassee community partners, and the students from the 2013 field school. Whitehead will be eliciting their input, and offer them co-authorship of certain chapters based on the extent of that input. Dr. Whitehead’s goal is to have a full draft of this monograph completed by the end of the 2016-17 academic year, prior to the commencement of the 2017 Tallahassee Field School.