Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology are disciplines built on the study of culture in context, which use ethnographic fieldwork to explore how people create meaning and shape the world around them through shared creative culture.

Ethnologists, folklorists, and ethnomusicologists consider how identity is shaped, maintained, transmitted, and adapted. They analyse the social, political, economic, and psychological forces that construct our humanity in its widest sense—from narrating everyday life to customs and oral traditions, from beliefs to musical and artistic production, from foodways to interactions with the environment.

We investigate how the practices and traditions of a community, region, or country relate to contemporary issues of identity and community, and how these ideas are enacted in everyday life.

The disciplines emerged from the search of Johann Gottfried von Herder's concept of Volksgeist, which recognized that, in contrast with 'high' art, the vast majority of human achievement is in the form of folk history, oral narrative, vernacular belief, arts, and customs.

The Elphinstone Institute builds on this academic tradition, exploring the relationships between individuals and their wider cultural frameworks.