Use of ethnographic approaches to the study of health experiences in relation to natural landscapes

Liz O'Brien*, Pete Varley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Aims: This paper discusses the use of ethnographic approaches to explore how engagement with natural landscapes might benefit people's health. Methods: Drawing on a selected review of empirical research we identified 30 relevant research papers that utilised qualitative methods to explore health issues and engagement with nature. Three examples of 'alternative' - i.e. non-mainstream qualitative approaches - are used to illustrate how different methods can be used to explore people's experiences of engaging with nature for health. Results: While quantitative methods are dominant in health research, qualitative approaches are becoming more widely used. Approaches such as autoethnography can add value to nature and health studies by providing opportunities for researchers to be self-critical of their role as a researcher. Accompanied visits and visual ethnography can afford the researcher rich data about bodily movement, facial expressions and journeys, as well as dialogues associated with the meanings of nature for health. Conclusions: The paper concludes by suggesting that ethnographic methods can provide useful and important insights into why people engage with the natural environment and the range of health benefits they may gain from contact with nature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-312
Number of pages8
JournalPerspectives in Public Health
Issue number6
Early online date1 Mar 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


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