Ethnographic Project Guidelines
1. The objective of the ethnographic project is to give you a small taste of cultural anthropological fieldwork and to challenge you to reflexively and critically undertake an analysis of a slice of American life. The primary methodology of cultural anthropological research is participant-observation, as discussed in class and defined in the PB glossary. For the purposes of this project, your actual participation in your field site may be limited (depending of your choice of field site). But you will be a keen observer, regardless of your level of participation in the activities of your field site.
2. Choose a field site for your project. Your field site should be someplace where you can make observations about some aspect of American culture. You might find it useful to choose a setting that is unfamiliar to you, in order to give you ‘fresh eyes’ and critical distance. On the other hand, you may want to choose someplace more familiar to you, but your challenge will then be to make visible that which may have become invisible to you through familiarity. Examples of possible field sites are nearly endless, as long as there are social interactions taking place that you can observe. Be creative.
3. Spend a few hours at your field site, gathering data about the context and activities. Bring a small notebook and write down your observations, and/or record them using some other appropriate technique. Be as curious, alert, and observant as you possibly can, and take many notes. Remember to include observations such as physical setting, what is going on in the background, what people are wearing, body language, proxemics (how people position their bodies in space), and so on. If you find that you have disturbing ‘gaps’ in your notes and it is possible for you to pay your field site a return visit, do so.
4. Write-up your findings. Prepare a 3-4 page (single-spaced) typed report of your project, structuring it in the following way:
1) Introduction. Briefly describe/introduce your field site and why you chose this particular place.
2) Presentation of Data. Describe your observations from your field notes and recollections. This section should be 1-2 pages in length.
3) Analysis/Discussion. This is the most important part of the project. Put most of your effort into this section. Place your experience in the context of anthropology as you know it so far. Review the concept of holism. What do your findings mean? What is the bigger picture, i.e., how do you connect your findings to the larger context of American society? What are the core cultural values underlying the behaviors you observed? Review the Holmes and Holmes article “The American Cultural Configuration” if you are unsure what is meant by “core cultural values” (i.e., aspects of ‘the American cultural configuration’ they list such as ‘the individual vs. the family,’ etc.) This section should be about 2 pages in length.