Special Topics in Anthropology

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Ethnographic Field Methods
Course Number: 
219 Kroeber
Th 12:00 - 2:00

“Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies” This seminar is a practicum in theoretically grounded ethnography. Our first objective is to provide a broad-ranging examination of key issues in the epistemology, genealogy, practice, ethics, and politics of ethnography. Ethnographic fieldwork requires that data production and social analysis arise through long-term intimate and embodied engagements in the field sites under study. Various traditions and modalities of ethnographic inquiry in cultural anthropology are presented for comparison in terms of their epistemic assumptions, goals, field techniques and relations, analytical strategies, representational devices, and ethical quandaries.

A second objective of the seminar is a hands-on approach to the practical tasks, rules, and tricks of the trade of ethnographic fieldwork. In quick order, we cover everything from choosing and articulating a problem, research design, proposal writing, protection of human subjects, to the techniques of observation and interviewing and the many challenges in carrying out fieldwork in a variety of settings—from locally-based, community ethnography to research in clinical settings and bureaucratic institutions to multi-sited and global inquiries. What constitutes a good and feasible research problem? How does one select a fieldsite? How does one gain entree? Then, we will explore and interrogate the key methods used in ethnographic fieldwork: participant-observation, key informant interviews, field note taking, field diaries, journals, and archives. Given the radically changing context of ethnographic research in the world today in which multi-sited research is the norm and working in sites of political conflict are common, we will explore the hazards and dangers of fieldwork, debate the question of politically engaged fieldwork, and the obligations of anthropologists to their research subjects, to their discipline, to themselves, and to history.  Finally, we will discuss styles and modalities of ethnographic writing, and the choice of reading publics for whom we choose to write and why.