An ethnologist is an anthropologist who studies the similarities and differences between cultures. He or she might elect to spend time immersed in particular groups to speak with people and make observations, or review research conducted by other anthropologists to make comparisons. The primary goal of an ethnologist is to create a detailed, entirely objective report that compares important facets of two or more cultures. Research efforts can lead to a better understanding of human behavior, political organization, art, and other fundamental aspects of society.
Most professional ethnologists would agree that trying to compare all aspects of one culture against those of another is too overwhelming of a task. Ethnologists usually specialize by studying one or two cultural phenomena at a time so they can truly understand behaviors, motives, and outcomes. Most studies are designed to compare aspects of two contemporary groups or societies. Research can also be done to explain how parts of a single culture have changed since a particular time in the past.
An ethnologist usually begins his or her research by thoroughly investigating ethnographies, which are firsthand reports completed by other anthropologists who have spent months or years observing and interacting with people of a particular culture. The ethnologist might compare and contrast ethnographies that deal with religion, politics, education, art, family values, or any other subject of importance to humans. When time and funding make it possible to conduct personal ethnographies, researchers often opt to do so.
A researcher must be careful to avoid letting preconceived notions or personal opinions taint research results. In order for an ethnographic report to be meaningful it must be free from bias and written in objective language. A good report can be used and built upon by future ethnologists for many years. In addition, a report can have practical applications in efforts to identify and improve poor living conditions among certain peoples.
An individual who wants to become an ethnologist is usually required to obtain an advanced degree in cultural or social anthropology. Some professionals enter the field with degrees in related sciences, such as psychology and sociology. A new ethnologist typically begins his or her career as a research assistant at a college, a government organization, or an anthropological society, learning from established anthropologists and helping them in their work. By gaining experience and earning a solid reputation in the field, an ethnologist can choose to apply for grant money and undertake independent research projects.