Ethnography: Knowledge, Form, Innovation

Once found most prominently in the disciplines of anthropology and qualitative sociology, ethnographic methods and ethnographic writings permeate across the humanities, social sciences, and even the natural sciences. The result is a diverse approach to ethnographic form and style, revealing ethnography as a durable, illuminating, and adaptive form of knowledge production even in an era where the premium on quantitative data analysis is high. In such a context, what can ethnographers from different disciplinary commitments and thematic interests learn from an engagement with a variety of ethnographic forms? How has ethnography changed across time? And what can be said of the limits, challenges, and opportunities for ethnography in our current moment? In this yearlong reading group, we propose to engage these questions through a diverse selection of ethnographic works that move across disciplines, and across time, to highlight where ethnography has been and critically reflect on where it might be going. This year’s theme will be to read classical 20th century and recent (last five years) approaches to ethnography alongside each other, with an emphasis on newer, emerging ethnographic writing across the humanities and social sciences. In this sense we hope to use this first ethnographic reading group as an inclusive entry point into the diversity of ethnographic forms while paying close attention to a) the historical roots of early ethnographic style; b) key threads of continuity; and c) significant divergences, disruption and novelty in method and writing with, for example, respect to objects of study, modes of analysis, and expressive style. 


Mondays, 5-7 PM. Snacks will be provided.
(Introductory meeting: Aaron Burr Hall, Room 216; Permanent location: TBD)

Fall Schedule:

Meeting 1 - 9/17, Introductions
* Introductory short reading: Tim Ingold, "That's Enough About Ethnography!"
open access:

Meeting 2 - 10/15, Politics of Genre in Ethnography
Stuart McLean, Fictionalizing Ethnography: Encounters and Fabulations at the Edges of the Human (2017)Steve Zeitlin, The Poetry of Everyday Life: Storytelling and the Art of Awareness (2016)
Optional: Price & Price, Saamaka Dreaming (2017)

Meeting 3 - 11/19, Ethnography of the State and Bureaucracy
Nayanika Mathur, Paper Tiger: Law, Bureaucracy, and the State in Himalayan India (2015)
Michael Herzfeld, The Social Production of Indifference: Exploring the Symbolic Roots
of Western Bureaucracy (1992)

Meeting 4 - 12/10,
Ethnography of the West and the Rest:
Eric Wolf, Europe and the People Without History (1982)
Paige West, Dispossession and the Environment (2016)

Meeting 5 - January TBD, (Troublesome) Ethnographies of Poverty
Oscar Lewis, The Children of Sanchez: Autobiography of a Mexican Family (1961)
Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016)