As social scientists, ethnography is the research method that guides how we learn about, how we learn with, and how we write about people, societies, and various spaces across our local and global communities – i.e., schools, villages, non-profit organizations, prisons, corporations, theaters, neighborhoods. Participant observation drives ethnography, as our learning process necessarily involves immersing ourselves as much as possible in the communities where we work by participating in everyday life and events as well as documenting these experiences and observations through fieldnotes. Traditionally, the final product of our ethnographic research is an ethnography: that is, a text that describes and analyzes the research experience, focusing on specific elements that comprise that community and making theoretical connections to better understand people, their lived experiences, and how they connect with others’ experiences across the globe. The purpose of ethnography is to learn and present information to further our understanding of the human experience.
While ethnography’s emphasis on immersing oneself in the cultures and spaces where one studies supposedly allows for a deeper understanding and explanation of ways of thinking and knowing the world, the practice of ethnography is tainted by its colonial tendencies. Accordingly, in this course, while we read examples of ethnographies and consider various methods and methodologies that make up ethnographic research and writing, we will also analyze imperial tendencies and brainstorm ways to level the field of research and to make ethnography a horizontal versus a vertical practice.
Through this course, students will learn what makes up ethnographic field research: before the field, during the field, and after the field. Students will develop necessary skills to evaluate and critique ethnographic approaches and determine which methods and methodologies they would employ in different research settings. Students will also reflect on their own trajectories and how these have positioned them in unique ways to take on particular projects and challenges as ethnographers.
- Teacher: Alysa Handelsman