This course is designed to provide a structure for the completion of your ethnographic field project (i.e., “senior thesis project”) in the Department of Anthropology. In addition to basing your grade on the data collection and other research activities in which you engage for your project, you will receive methodological training and a series of assignments in conjunction with your projects. Your grade will be based on the data that you collect in the course of these assignments and carrying out the entirety of your ethnographic project.
The purpose of this course is to train students in different methods used to carry out ethnographic research and to train students to more broadly recognize, examine, and practice the aesthetics of good research design. For the Spring/Summer of 2023, this course will emphasize visual and multimodal ethnography in particular. This will involve a foundation on broader ethnographic research, with an added layer of multimodal ethnographic methods. The training received in this course will be applied by each student in the carrying out of a significant ethnographic field project. Anthropology comprises one of the most interdisciplinary social sciences (though not without its own disciplinary biases, of course). Even beyond its four principal subfields—archaeology, biological, linguistic, and cultural anthropology—anthropologists engage with social phenomena that are studied by researchers in all disciplines. Thus, the types of data and methods used by anthropologists span the gamut of possible methodologies. Students will be introduced to the fundamentals of ethnographic research by comparing and critiquing the logic of distinct approaches, and they will be expected to become reflexive about the approach that they take. Students will not only learn about, but will employ in their projects these principles of research design, data collection, the linking of theory and data, the ethics of social science research.
The course training and discussion will begin with philosophical and epistemological issues of concern in ethnography: What is research, and what constitutes “interesting” research? What do we consider legitimate forms of knowledge in the social sciences in general and anthropology in particular? How do we know what we know? What counts as data? How do distinct methods build on distinct human modalities of understanding and meaning-making? What disciplinary divisions exist with regards to stances on these questions? How do discipline-specific ontologies lead to different research philosophies? We will also question disciplinary commitments to particular forms of knowing, including historical trends within anthropology. The instructor will advocate a model in which research questions drive methodological approaches, and not vice versa.
This initial discussion will be followed by introductions to various methodologies and research designs. The goal here is to help students strengthen the methodological plan for their projects by applying different methods as they execute the project. Readings will provide a mix of background and explanation of methods/designs as well as concrete examples. This course will reach beyond the methods and designs sometimes considered "conventional" in contemporary anthropology to include the gamut of possible methods in anthropologically oriented research. The emphasis will be on a holistic ethnographic approach to the research questions that you pursue.
The unique nature of this course is that the discussions and readings are largely geared towards implementing these methods, and not just understanding them conceptually. In other words, the coursework largely entails APPLYING these methods in the course of your research. The assignments for the course reflect this, but it is essential that you have a good conceptual grasp of the conceptual and methodological principles at stake in carrying out these methods. We will therefore engage in regular discussions of methods as you carry out your project over the summer.