Ethnographic observation

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You are a cultural anthropologist using the ethnographic methods of participant observation and direct observation to construct what anthropologist Clifford Geertz termed a thick description, or a description of humans interacting in context. This is an objective, descriptive way of documenting what people are doing and the cultural understandings that are needed to make sense of their actions and the meanings and significance of those behaviors in their given context. Part 1: Field work Go someplace (safe for you) for around 2 hours. Sit down. Take notes, or jottings. These should be short words and phrases that will help you recall the specific interactions between people and the their worlds in more full detail later on. You’ll want to to start by writing as much as possible for maybe 15-20 minutes, then take a break. Think about what you’ve been observing, and focus your notes accordingly. If no one is at the place you’ve chosen to do your observation, move. If you feel lost, start counting things. Diagrams can be very helpful in keeping track of who and what and where. You can talk to people if it happens, but this is not an interview assignment Part 2: Fieldnotes Write up your jottings as fieldnotes. Your field notes are your description of what you observed written in paragraph from, using complete sentences. There are few different strategies anthropologist use to do this: You might want to go back and recall the events you witnessed in chronological order. You might start with an event that seems particularly important or noteworthy, and recall that event in vivid, specific detail and then move topically through other significant events, exchange of incidents. Or you may focus systematically on incidents related to specific topics of interest. You are necessarily seeing things from a specific view, and when writing your ethnography, you will have to decide what point of view to write use. You might use the first person, writing about what you experienced and observed, using “I” to tell the story. This is not a journal entry, so the focus is not on your interpretations and feelings, but rather what you did, how you interacted, and what you observed and your reactions. You can write in the third person which focuses less on your perspective of events and more on others and try and focus your descriptions on what other people did, saw and said, focusing on details other people seemed to observe and experience. In terms of sequence, you might choose to organize your field notes in real time, which means you will have partial or incomplete information about events as they occur. Or you may start from an endpoint, using knowledge that you gained after the events occurred to make sense of them, using information that you would not have had as events were unfolding. Regardless of the strategy you choose, in good ethnography: you may make inference about what people are thinking or feeling, but they should be explicitly based on observable phenomena–facial expressions, gestures, and speech. Also, when you observe an event you become part o the context, and you can’t ignore or hide your presence. Description serves to “Show the reader” instead of “tell the reader” using concrete, sensory details about scenes, settings, objects people and actions Concrete details are used rather than generalizations Adjectives and adverbs convey details Stay away from common visual stereotypes regarding people. Aim to stay away from static cliches and create vivid images based on actual observation that depicts specific details about people and setting so that images can be clearly visualized. Never allow labels to stand in or description! People do things in the world. Focus on behaviors and actions, talk, gesture, posture and movement, rather than simply appearances. Characteristics appears through interactions with others and the environments, rather than being isolated qualities of individuals. WARNINGS: If you’re moving around too much, you’ll miss the interaction part. It’s like observing a bunch of photographs instead of a whole movie. Headphones in can make you feel less creepy, but headphones means you’re missing the world around you. Older kids can help, but if you have to watch your kids, you’re missing the world. You need to describe the setting, the people, and what they are doing. Your reactions can be important, but your values, labels and judgements are not at this point. The less time that elapses between writing up field notes and taking jottings, the more immediate, evocative details you’ll be able to include. This is not going to be a regular college essay with an standard introduction, body and conclusion. Don’t stress about where to start writing, just write and you’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t. You can do your observation with another person, but you shouldn’t compare your observations until after you have written up your fieldnotes. This is not the same assignment that you get if your taking an education class where you observe a classroom. If you try to do both assignments at once, you most likely won’t do well on this. There’s a tendency to pay attention to the weird or exciting stuff that happens, but if you ignore the normal everyday stuff, the weird stuff isn’t weird. Context matters. 2 hours all at once might be a long time. Talk to me if this is an issue. Taking notes on your phone is probably a really bad idea

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