I enjoyed the opening illustration used in the Shaffir article of the two lost men in the woods; the one who's flustered because he's been lost for three days and the other who's made peace with the idea of being lost because he's been lost for so long. I can identify the the poor soul whose been lost for three days, and find comfort in the fact that it's not about finding a way out, but making peace with the situation as is.
The article goes on to state that "any attempt to codify the process - much less to force it into the rigid protocols of 'hard science' - is to miss the point. Focusing on the process is futile, since it's not the end but the means. The research must instead be focused on the end result, where the sum of the observations eventually create a story or unfolds a cultural lesson that only be taught through the process of hanging out.
Ethnographic research is useful in that there are sometimes huge disconnects between what people say they do versus what they actually do, and also, many of us aren't able to fully articulate our needs or wants. The whole "known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns, unknown knowns comes into play. There are things that become second nature to us, and we don't think about them until they're pointed out. The down side to observational research is that it's time consuming and therefore very costly, which means that the sample sizes remain relatively small. There's also the well known Hawthorne effect, observation will inevitably alter the behavior of those being watched.