Ethnography and the Material World

Ethnography, as the practice of cultural description, is associated primarily with anthropology although it is a method taken up by many other disciplines. The term generally refers to two related approaches to scholarly research: the practice of fieldwork as a means to gather data; and a particular genre of “writing-up” that privileges rich (or what Clifford Geertz called “thick”) first-hand description. This course is a primer on both aspects of ethnography and offers an intensive workshop for students to engage with the methods of fieldwork (participant observation, interviews and transcription, apprenticeship, audio-visual recording) and modes of scholarly narration. We will read a few ethnographies of the material world (from object production and circulation to consumption); discuss various methods and the ethics of research; and conduct primary fieldwork exercises with communities in or near New York City. This course will provide students with the tools to conduct research on vibrant objects in living communities. Students are encouraged to work on topics relevant to their graduate research interests, qualifying papers, and dissertations. Depending on your final research project, this course can satisfy Non-Western distribution requirement. 3 credits.