Deep Hanging Out

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The term Deep Hanging Out was coined by anthropologist Clifford Geertz in 1998[1] to describe the anthropological research method of immersing oneself in a immersed in a cultural, group or social experience on an informal level. Observations gleaned from deep hanging out may typically end up being the most poignant insights of one's anthropological research. In contrast to anthropological practices of conducting short interviews with subjects or observing behavior, deep hanging out is as form of participatory observation in which the anthropologist is physically or virtually present in a group for extended periods of time or for long informal sessions.

Deep Hanging Out Online vs. Offline

In traditional anthropology, the field is a literal space or place in which actors preform culture. In digital anthropology, the field can be entirely virtual, part virtual and real, and completely real. For instance, a digital anthropologist could practice deep hanging out in a user group or chatroom without physically meeting any of the group members during the research experiment. Along the way, the anthropologist would pick up on the cultural terms in the demographic and be able to conduct research either as a detached observer, or as a participant observer embedded into the social reality of the site.

The digital anthropologist could also use the virtual site to identify group members to meet in real life, or to find ways to meet groups of people in real life to compare online and offline behaviors. Finally, the anthropologist could simply observe how members of a group interact with each other and their devices in real life through the use of technology. In this case, the sites might be in the same room (in the case of a conference where many are connected online with each other during the event and afterwards), or spread out in bedrooms, boardrooms, offices, kitchens and living rooms all over the world.

Deep hanging out in a group is also very useful for identifying the boundaries of the group. For instance, Kath Woodward's study on insider/outsider research in the sport of boxing[2] explored how the group identified itself with respect to the world.


The validity of deep hanging out as a practice is debated in the anthropology community. Many argue that 'hanging out' or spending time with a group of people is one of the best ways to get real stories about the everyday lives of a culture or group. For instance, deep hanging out often builds trust in situations in which an anthropologist outsider might not be completely trusted on first blush. One anthropologist was able to hear stories about extremely sensitive subjects such as rape and murders deals from a specific violent gang group because he was able to establish trust with them over time. He kept the research and results anonymous when he published it to protect the rights of the group.

Others argue that deep hanging could affect objectivity in research. In addition to hanging out being informal, ideas of impression management and skewed stories from subjects are concerns of traditional anthropologists. The cut goes either way. On the one hand, an anthropologist might not get the entire story simply from observation and interviews. On the other hand, the anthropologist might get a warped or corrupted story from group members. It is up to every anthropologist to decide which method is best for the research and group at hand, and to be aware of biases, potential pitfalls and inconsistencies each method may provide. Describing the methods used in data collection and any potential mistakes or errors that each method might bring about. This documentation is an essential part of good anthropological research and of priceless value to any researcher who wishes to revisit, build off of, or continue the research of a former anthropologist and group.

Further Reading

  • Serial Hanging Out: Rapid Ethnographic Needs Assessment in Rural Settings. Jaspal S. Sandhu, P. Altankhuyag and D. Amarsaikhan. Human-Computer Interaction. Interaction Design and Usability. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 2007, Volume 4550/2007, 614-623, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-540-73105-4_68
  • Murchison, Julian. Ethnography Essentials: Designing, Conducting, and Presenting Your Research. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. 2010.


  1. Geertz, Clifford. Deep Hanging Out 1998.
  2. Woodward, Kath. Hanging out and hanging about Insider/outsider research in the sport of boxing Open University, UK. Accessed April 11, 2011.