An Anthropologist on Mars: Fieldwork Research Strategies


Course Description:  Immersing ourselves in research offers us and our students a popular and fascinating kind of nonfiction writing, a cross between distance and intimacy. “The study of another is also a study of the self.”  Anthropologists know that immersion in alien environments helps us understand ourselves.  With ethnographic inquiry, this course will allow you a greater understanding of the “self” (your habits, biases, and assumptions) as you reflect on your encounters with “the other.” We’ll try some fieldwork research methods to study and write about subcultures on the island of Mt. Desert. In this short course, we’ll consider the ethics and skills for conducting interviews, collecting artifacts and insider language, and mapping space. You may choose to study local professionals or focus your observation on a local place. You’ll create a portfolio of reflections on the process of conducting research, and submit plans for a larger project-- an essay, an audio or video documentary, or another kind of public presentation. We encourage active engagement and collaboration among group members.

Required Text:  Sunstein, Bonnie S. and Chiseri-Strater, Elizabeth. FieldWorking:  Reading and Writing Research. fourth edition.  Bedford/St.Martin’s. 2012  ISBN-13: 9780312622756

daily schedule

Day 1, morning:  Stepping in and Stepping Out

We'll consider definitions of culture and subculture, discuss our own affiliations as well as those we create in our lives.  We’ll consider the implications of our subjective and objective "selves" as we enter a field to collect data about "others."  We'll write about how our history, schooling, ethnicity, gender, and other positions affect both how we look and how we see.  assignment due: FieldWorking: Chapter 1, Boxes 1 (Looking at Subcultures) and 3 (Engaging the Ethnographic Perspective).  Choose a site in Bar Harbor, observe, and begin taking fieldnotes.

Day1, afternoon:  Reading Self, Reading Culture

“Reading” people and objects is like reading texts.  We’ll explore the implications of Naylor’s Mama Day, and of the ethics of doing research as you begin your island research project.  We’ll watch the film Stranger With a Camera.  assignment due: FieldWorking:  Chapter 2, Box 10 (Positioning Yourself) and Chapter 3, Box 13 (Reading an Artifact)

Day 2, morning:  Learning to Look:  The Spatial Gaze, Taking Fieldnotes

We'll observe, sketch, record, photograph, and reflect on your fieldnotes to sharpen observation skills. We’ll go together to one field site, take notes, organize, share, and organize again.  assignment due:  FieldWorking: Chapter 2:  Box 6 (Double-entry Notes); Chapter 3, Box 11 (Unlearning our Privilege); Chap 4: combine Boxes 16-18 (all on observation; choose as you see fit, to create a short sketch).

Day2, afternoon:  Learning to Listen:  The Ethnographic Interview

Interviews are the processes of constructing meaning with others--through language, artifacts, family stories, and interviews.  We'll examine part of an interview, and learn how to analyze this data by writing about it.  We'll consider the options and ethics about crafting others' words into our own pages.  assignment due:  FieldWorking:  Chapter 5, Boxes 20-26, all on interviews, artifacts; choose as you see fit to create a short portrait).

Day 3, morning:  Learning to Listen:  Family Stories, Oral Histories

Listening to people talk within their cultures and subcultures involves more than stories and histories; it requires sensitivity to “verbal art:” specialized and ritualized language, jokes, curses, proverbs, sayings, and traditional stories.  We’ll continue looking at data in interviews, consider what it is to collect life information from people, watch one documentary (we’ll choose between “Stranger With a Camera,” “Home Movie,” “The Parking Lot Movie,” “Kitchen Stories,” or “Vernon Florida”). assignment due: FieldWorking:  Chapter 6, Boxes 26-29, choose one.

Day 3, afternoon:  Archives:  Digging through a Culture’s Stuff, Festival of Data

Archives are the “stuff” of a culture; the materials with which people define themselves and researchers answer historical questions.  We find them in boxes, trunks, town halls, and museums. The World Wide Web is probably the richest (if not the most trustworthy) archive we have.  We’ll try our hands at collecting and defining a few archives specific to our research sites.  We’ll also discuss how to organize data, look for  themes, and respond to one another’s writing. assignment due: FieldWorking:  Chapter 7, Boxes 30-32, choose one.

Day 4: Workshop and Festival of Data    

We devote this day to working, in collaborative groups, on the portfolios, finishing unfinished fieldwork, employing help from research partners, analyzing data, and writing partial ethnographic drafts.  We’ll use approaches that teachers can use in schools—to both data analysis, information synthesis, and writing itself.  assignment due:  FieldWorking: Chapter 8, Boxes 33, 34; draft an “ethnographic slice.” 

Day 5:  Project/Essay Proposals and Portfolio Workshop

We’ll share plans for your final projects, work together on portfolio analysis, and discuss how your new skills will apply to your classroom, community heritage,  work or service projects. We’ll discuss implications for whomever you are actively teaching, as well as venues for getting your work published both online and in print.   Together, we’ll determine a time frame for your finished work.

Ethnography changes the ethnographer.  Conducting a first ethnography changes our relationship to the field, to research methods, and often, to our research subject (s).

Wendy Bishop, Ethnographic Writing Research

Your grade will reflect a combination of these features:

A Research Portfolio containing:

•  An annotated table of contents
•  A reflective letter, documenting your research process, analyzing and
summarizing the contents.  (What would you do if you had more time?)
•  Representative samples (not all!!) of each type of data you’ve collected
•  Box Exercises from FieldWorking, labeled and dated

A Proposal/Plan for an Ethnographic Project, in which you:

•  Represent and incorporate  (“triangulate”) multiple data sources in your writing: make  reference to your own observations and thoughts, quotes from interviews, descriptions of artifacts, background information, specialized language, details of space and place.
• For your essay “slice,” use standard manuscript format (double spaced, one-inch margins, header or footer with page numbers), with accompanying Microsoft word document
•  Craft compelling prose that grabs a reader and answers the question, what does this fieldsite/subculture tell YOU about this piece of culture in Bar Harbor?
• Describe and share a plan and a timeframe for your larger ethnographic project (radio or video essay, powerpoint presentation, public display)

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