Ethnography Study: Key Findings

by Amy McLeod
August 8, 2010

Culture is defined as “the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc” (  In this way, Madison Square Garden serves as a place for people of a similar culture to congregate in support of something.  This is different than most areas in New York City.

Every neighborhood in NYC has its own culture, an aspect unique to the area, that is both defined by the people who live there and that defines those people.  The Upper East Side is ritzy.  Soho is trendy.  Chelsea is gay-friendly.  Greenwich Village is artsy.   Madison Square Garden is distinct because its “culture” changes daily.  Depending on the event taking place in the Graden and the people who choose to attend the event, the culture will change.

In studying Madison Square Garden, I was faced with many different types of information – both subjective and objective.  Everyone who has an experience or a memory regarding Madison Square Garden adds to the ethnographic makeup of the arena.  However, each of these is only a small aspect of the study.  These are subjective elements because they all believe that their experience is the most important or valuable.  It is my job, as the researcher, to understand how these subjective aspects relate to the ethnography as a whole.

These stories and memories do make up a huge part of the ethnography of Madison Square Garden.  Because it is such a diverse space, it’s important to know what types of experiences have been had in the arena.  It is also important, however, to do objective research about the space.  Why was it built above Penn Station?  What types of entertainment is it designed to accommodate?  How has technology changed MSG?   These are objective questions that were answered either through research or by speaking with someone who works at Madison Square Garden.

The combination of information gained through both objective and subjective sources allowed me to get a full understanding of the ethnography of Madison Square Garden.  Having one of these types of understanding without the other would leave the research only partially complete and lacking important elements.

Those who have a unique experience or memory create knowledge.  The combination of all of these different elements together forms knowledge.  Each memory is valuable and represents a different aspect of our understanding so, with each that is added, a greater knowledge is achieved.  It is through the gathering of many different experiences with Madison Square Garden that I began to piece together my understanding of the arena.  With each interview or bit of research that I did, my ethnographic knowledge was enhanced.   Particularly with a location that is as diverse and variable as Madison Square Garden, each new bit of knowledge goes a long way in helping me understand the magnitude of Madison Square Garden.

As mentioned, MSG’s culture varies immensely with each day.  Because the Garden hosts everything from the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show to a Lady Gaga concert to a New York Knicks basketball game, the culture is always changing.  Because of this, it was my job as the ethnographer to understand each individual aspect of MSG.   I could not simply learn about the concerts that are hosted or the basketball games that are played.  In order to do the arena justice, I had to research all of the different elements that are present in MSG.  Simple research would not cut it, either.  It was my responsibility to experience MSG for myself. I had to understand the history of the arena and what it strives to achieve.  I had to understand it as more than just an arena, but as a cultural and historical icon.


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