Week 3: September 16: On Ethnography

Zak Jensen

Today we’ll talk “big picture” about ethnography as a method: how anthropologists and designers conceive of it; its relationships to colonialism and power, to serendipity and “theory,” to site and scale, to narrative and epistemology; its ethical obligations and protocols; and how portable its principles and methods are between physical and virtual fields. We’ll also ask you, during class, to complete a survey about your groupwork experience, your relevant skills and expertise, and your critical and creative interests, so V and Shannon can start identifying potential affinities and partnerships. 

To prepare for today: 

  • How do social scientists understand ethnography? Read Timothy Pachirat, Acts I to IV (focus on IV!) in Among Wolves: Ethnography and the Immersive Study of Power (Routledge, 2017): 1-73 [again, recall that you’ll be prompted to log in to access our copyrighted readings]. The book is structured like a play, to allow a cast of social scientists to engage with one another about their approaches to ethnography. Even if you’re not taken in by the (admittedly contrived) dramatic action, I hope you’ll read through the dialogue to identify some of the larger debates about ethnography.
  • Optional for Undergraduates: And how do designers understand ethnography? You’re welcome to read either of the following:  
  • How has the digital field informed / transformed these models? Watch Yarimar Bonilla, “Doing Ethnography Remotely,” Center for Global Ethnography (May 15, 2020) < video: 23:31 >. Digital ethnography is a big world with a deep history; please briefly skim through the website for our Spring 2021 “Digital Ethnography” undergrad workshop and some of the resources in our Zotero library. Given that much of OHNY’s programming will be online in this pandemic year, we’ll need to prepare ourselves for virtual fieldwork.  
  • Finally, I invite you to consider how anthropology, design, and tech might inform one another in cultivating a more creative, multisensory, inclusive, globally dispersed, “patchworked,” epistemologically rich, responsive, etc., etc., etc., approach to ethnography. We’ll discuss in class today and in the following weeks. 

Via Present & Correct

Supplemental Resources:

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