Ethnographic Media

August 24, 2007

I’ve spent much of this week gearing up for a seminar I’ll be teaching at UC Berkeley’s Grad School of Ed on ethnography and qualitative methods. It’s got me thinking about the relationship between youth media production and academic research. I wrote an essay awhile back on this topic, but now that I’ll actually be teaching methods while still working as a youth media producer, the connections are getting clearer and more complicated.

When I began carrying out ethnographic research at youth media sites more than nine years ago, I knew I would learn a lot about learning from the teen producers who eventually–at Youth Radio–became my colleagues. I did not expect to learn as much, if not more, about something I thought I already understood: how to do ethnography. Youth media projects are not only worthy subjects to study if we want to understand all we can about literacy; they also contain compelling new models for research methods.

Here are the kinds of things young people do to produce a radio feature. Students identify topics, drawing on first-person experiences, engaging key social issues, and critiquing standard representations of marginalized communities. They explore relevant contextual considerations and debates. They conduct interviews and record naturally occurring scenes. They make decisions about framing, style, and content based on their project’s intended audience. They experiment with ways to tell their stories, often rejecting expected narrative formulas and introducing varied vernaculars and novel modes of expression drawn from youth culture and converged media. Through all of these practices, they collaborate with other teens, young mentors, and adults. They push through crises of purpose and confidence—not always achieving tidy resolution. Their stories air for audiences, and then they start again.

As I have observed and participated with young people through these various stages of story-making, an unanticipated parallel surfaced. Their practices looked a lot like new directions for socially relevant research.

So now I’m thinking I’ll invite some of my Youth Radio colleagues to the Cal class to share the newsroom’s research practices. And at the end of the semester, I’ll ask the UC Berkeley students to “pitch” their research topics as media stories to some Youth Radio newsroom reporters. Seems like that experience might encourage young scholars to think in new ways about how to get people interested in what they have to say.

For what it’s worth, here’s how I’m imagining my reading list for the course so far–still totally in progress. Any suggestions for texts on digital methods and ethnographies of digital youth culture would be most appreciated!

Week 1:

Spinning at the Mirror: Reflexivity and Ethnographic “Turns”

Foley, D. 2002. Critical Ethnography: The Reflexive Turn. International
Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 15(4), 469-490.

Tedlock, D. & Mannheim, B. 1995. The dialogic emergence of culture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 1-32.

Ferguson, A. 2001. “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Field Trip.” Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 1-27.

Limon, J. 1994. “The Native Dances.” Dancing with the Devil: Society and cultural poetics in Mexican American South Texas. 141-167.

Week 2:

The Never-Ending Conversation: Writing Subjects

Clifford, J. & Marcus, G. 1986. Writing culture: The poetics and politics of ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press. Introduction.

Behar, R. & Gordon, D. 1995. Women writing culture. Berkeley: University of California Press. Excerpts.

Visweswaran, K. 1994. Fictions in feminist ethnography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Steedman, C. 1987. “Death of a Good Woman,” “Stories,” and “The Weaver’s Daughter.” Landscape for a Good Woman. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. 1-47.

Week 3:

Discovering What We Don’t Know: Getting Started

Berg, Bruce. Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. 5th edition. Pearson. Chapters 1 & 2.

Maxwell, Joseph. Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach. Chapters 1-3.

Athaneses, S. and Heath, S. B. 1995. Ethnography in the study of the teaching and learning of English. Research in the Teaching of English. 29(3), 263-286.

Becker, H. 1998. Tricks of the Trade: How to Think About Your Research
While You’re Doing It. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Excerpts.

Week 4:

“What Doing Ethnography Is”…and What it’s For

Geertz, C. 1973. Thick Description: Toward an interpretive theory of culture. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.

Glesne, C. & Peshkin, A. 1992. Being There: Developing Understanding through Participant Observation. Becoming Qualitative Researchers. New York: Longman.

Andrade, J. A. 2006. Utilizing carino in the development of research methodologies. In J. Kinchelo (Ed.), The Praeger Handbook of Urban Education (451-460). Greenwood Press.

Eisenhart, Margaret. 2001. “Educational Ethnography Past, Present, and Future: Ideas to Think With” Educational Researcher. Vol. 30, no. 8. pp. 16-27.

Week 5:

Perpetual Writing: Field Notes

Emerson, R., Fretz, R. & Shaw, L. 1995. Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Excerpt.

Sanjek, R. (Ed.). 1990. “A Vocabulary for Fieldnotes” and “The Secret Life of Fieldnotes”. In Fieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology. Ithaca: Cornell.

Cintron, R. 1997. Angels’ Town: Chero ways, gang life, and rhetorics of everyday life. Boston: Beacon Press. Chapter 1 (Starting Places) and Chapter 4 (A Boy and His Wall).

Valenzuela, A. 1999. Subtractive schooling: U.S.-Mexican youth and the politics of caring. Albany: SUNY Press. Appendix: Research Methodology.

Week 6:

Beyond Qualitative Righteousness: Ethics Part 1

Scheper-Hughes, N. 2000. Ire in Ireland. Ethnography 1(1), 117-140.

Starn, O. 1986. Engineering internment: Anthropologists and the war relocation authority. American Ethnologist, 13(4), 700-720.

Kelley, R. 1998. Introduction. Yo Mama’s disFUNKtional! Fighting the culture wars in urban America. Boston: Beacon Press. 1-13.

Fine, Gary Alan. Ten Lies of Ethnography: Moral Dilemmas of Field Research Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Vol. 22, No. 3. October 1993. 267-294.

Caplan, P. 2003. Ethics of Anthropology: Debates and Dilemmas. New York: Routledge. Excerpts.

Week 7:

In and Out of Sites

Pratt, M. L. Linguistic Utopias. In N. Fabb, D. Attridge, A. Durant, and C. McCabe (Eds) The Linguistics of Writing (48-66). New York: Methuen.

Dimitriadis, G. & Weis, L. 2006. Multisited ethnographic approaches in urban education today. In J. Kinchelo (Ed.), The Praeger Handbook of Urban Education (470-481). Greenwood Press.

Marcus, G. 1998. Ethnography Through Thick and Thin. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Chapter 1.

Hymes, D. 1962. The ethnography of speaking. In T. Gladwin & W. Sturtevant (Eds.), Anthropology and Human Behavior. Anthropological Society of Washington.

Urciuoli, B. 1991. The political topography of Spanish and English: The view from a New York Puerto Rican neighborhood. American Ethnologist, 18(2), 295-310.

Week 8:

Human Subjects and IRB: Ethics Part II

Timmermans, Stefan. 1995. Cui Bono? Institutional Review Board Ethics and Ethnographic Research. Studies in Symbolic Interaction. Volume 19, p. 153-173.

Wax, M. 1980. Paradoxes of ‘Consent’ to the practice of fieldwork. Social Problems. Volume 27, No. 3. February. 272-283.

Cohen, P. February 28, 2007. As Ethics Panels Expand, No Research Field Is Exempt. New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2007 at:

AAA code of ethics:

Visit and read over UCB’s Committee on the Protection of Human Subjects website:

Week 9:

Always Asking: Learning How to Listen

Briggs, C. 1986. Learning How to Ask. The Role of the Interview in Social Science Research. Cambridge University Press.

McDermott, R. 1995. On the necessity of collusion in conversation. In D. Tedlock & B. Mannheim (Eds.), Dialogic Emergence of Culture (218-236). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Hill, J. & Zepeda, O. 1992. Mrs. Patricio’s trouble: The distribution of responsibility in an account of personal experience. In J. Hill & J. Irvine (Eds.) Responsibility and evidence in oral discourse (197-225). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Weiss, Robert S. 1994. Learning from Strangers: The Art and Method of Qualitative
Interview Studies. New York: Free Press. Excerpt.

Seidman, Irving. 1998. Chapters Six, Seven and Eight. Interviewing as Qualitative Research. New York: Teachers College Press.

Week 10:

Observant Participation

Fine, M. & Torres, M. 2006. Researching and resisting: Democratic policy research by and for youth. In S. Ginwright, P. Noguera, & J. Cammarota (Eds.), Beyond resistance: Youth activism and community change (269-286). New York: Routledge.

Dressman, M. 2006. Teacher, teach thyself. Ethnography 7(3), 329-356.

Morrell, E. 2006. Youth-initiated research as a tool for advocacy and change in urban schools. In S. Ginwright, P. Noguera, & J. Cammarota (Eds.), Beyond resistance: Youth activism and community change (111-128). New York: Routledge.

Tupuola, A. 2006. Participatory research, culture and youth identities: An exploration of indigenous, cross-cultural and trans-national methods. Children, Youth and Environments, 16(2). 291-316. Retrieved August 16, 2007 from

Week 11:

Ethnographic Categories: Lads, Ear’oles, Hallway Hangers, Brothers, Troublemakers, Schoolboys…

Willis, P. 1977. Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs. New York: Columbia University Press. Excerpt.

MacLeod, J. 1995. Ain’t No Makin’ It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low Income Neighborhood. Boulder: Westview Press. 3-24, 239-267.

McDermott, R. & Varenne, H. (1998). Adam, Adam, Adam, and Adam: The cultural construction of a learning disability. In H. Varenne & R. McDermott (Eds.), Successful failure: The school America builds (25-44). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Clips from The Wire, Stoop Kids and Corner Kids

Week 12:

Tackling the Towering Pile: Analysis

Glesne, Corrine and Peshkin, Alan. 1992. Finding Your Story: Data Analysis. Becoming Qualitative Researchers. New York: Longman.

Miles, M. & Huberman. A. M. Drawing Valid Meaning from Qualitative Data: Toward a Shared Craft. Educational Researcher.

McDermott, R., Gospodinoff, K., Aron, J. 1978. Criteria for an ethnographically adequate description of activities and their context. Semiotica 24: 245-275.

Katz, Jack. 1997. On Ethnographic Warrants. Sociological Methods and Research, 25(4), 391- 423.

Ochs, E. 1979. Transcription as theory. In E. Ochs & B. Scheffelin (Eds). Developmental Pragmatics. Academic Press.

Week 13:

Just When You Thought You Had it Right… Analysis of Analysis

Wacquant, Loïc. 2002. “Scrutinizing the Street: Poverty, Morality, and the Pitfalls of Urban Ethnography.” American Journal of Sociology 107-6 (May): 1468-1532.

Anderson, E. 1990. Streetwise: Race, class, and change in an urban community. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Newmann, K. 1999. No shame in my game: The working poor in the inner city. New York: Vintage Books.

Burawoy, M. 2003. “Revisits: An Outline of a Theory of Reflexive Ethnography.” American Sociological Review 68-5 (October): 645-679.

Week 14:

Digital Questions/Digital Methods

Okabe, Daisuke and Mizuko Ito. 2006. “Everyday Contexts of Camera Phone Use: Steps Toward Technosocial Ethnographic Frameworks.” In Joachim Höflich and Maren Hartmann Ed., Mobile Communication in Everyday Life. Berlin: Frank & Timme.

Pascoe, C.J. 2007. What if a guy hits on you? Intersections of gender, sexuality, and age in fieldwork with adolescents. In A. Best (Ed.), Representing Youth: Methodological Issues in Critical Youth Studies. New York: New York University Press.

Ethical Decision Making and Internet Research, retrieved on August 23, 2007 from:

Youth Radio on Henry Jenkins’ Acafan

August 18, 2007

When my Youth Radio colleague Ayesha Walker and I went to the National Media Education Conference in St. Louis awhile back, we chit chatted with Henry Jenkins about some of the big ideas he’s been rolling out in his recent digital media writing. Okay, I’ll be honest, I’ve been following and citing his work for years, so I stalked him on his way out of the dining room, dragging Ayesha behind me.

The good news for us was, at the end of our conversation, he said he’d like to publish an interview with Youth Radio on his Acafan site. Here are some of the questions he sent our way.

How would you define the mission of Youth Radio? What are you trying to accomplish?

What roles do youth play in your production process? What roles do adults play?

What do you see as the continued value of broadcast radio as a medium in an era of blogs and podcasts?

I noticed that you are making your broadcast content available via iTunes. How did that come about and how successful do you think this approach has been at broadening who listens to youth radio?

What kinds of skills and knowledge are young people acquiring through their involvement with the production of youth radio?

What relationship does your group have with other youth radio producers around the world?

When we met in Saint Louis, we had an interesting exchange about the value of individual authorship as opposed to collective intelligence. I wondered if you might be willing to share your perspective on this topic here.

There’s been a general trend suggesting that contemporary youth are less likely than previous generations to seek out information from traditional news channels. What insights do you have about why young people might be turned off by news?

There’s been a general trend suggesting that contemporary youth are less likely than previous generations to seek out information from traditional news channels. What insights do you have about why young people might be turned off by news?

For our answers, check out Confessions of an Acafan sometime next week. Here’s an excerpt from the answer Pendarvis (Dru) Harshaw, Youth Radio reporter and commentator, supplied for Henry’s last question:

The difference between Youth Radio and a MySpace or a YouTube or any new site which allows a person to produce themselves is … media literacy. Youth Radio does what MySpace would hate us to do: Teach us why sites like MySpace work—the advertisements, the conglomerates, and how all of this relates to them getting our money. Instead of blindly posting our videos and pictures on a website owned by a round table of old farts, Youth Radio teaches us the process of broadcasting, the mechanics of production, and the influence of media—not from the mouth of an old fart, but from the mouths of young people who have also gone through this program, young people who are literate in the power of media, and the power we have in producing the media.

If you want to hear more from Dru, here’s a story called N-Bomb he recently did for NPR.

Digital Entrepreneurship Revisited

August 3, 2007

At Youth Radio, we had an all staff meeting yesterday where we talked a lot about entrepreneurship as a theme that runs through every aspect of what we do. It’s a growing trend across the youth media field. Profound changes in the media marketplace and persistent conditions faced by California’s low income youth and communities set the stage for this focus.

Media Marketplace

The rules of the media game have changed. Conversational media, mobile devices, wireless access, and cheap production tools have launched an explosion of youth-made media. There’s tons of content out there. What’s missing is a system to bring meaningful content from marginalized youth to the forefront. Good stuff gets buried, and sensationalism can trump subtlety, narrative originality, and challenging or unfamiliar perspectives. What’s needed are credible youth producers and curators trained to solicit and comb through their peers’ content to point audiences to the most compelling, customized material.

Youth Communities

While young people can buy digital video cameras at the corner store for ten bucks and webcast clips from cell phones for free, that access does not translate into enduring roles as full participants in digital culture—any more than text-messaging a vote for an American Idol favorite exemplifies “actualized” youth citizenship (Bennett, 2007; see also Jenkins, 2006). Civic engagement in today’s world entails the material and imaginative resources that enable young people to tell their own stories and transform larger narratives, policies, and institutions, while finding pathways to further education and living wage jobs.

Two Developments

• In his 2007 book, Fighting for Air, sociologist Eric Klinenberg reports that rampant “re-regulation” by the FCC has green-lighted unprecedented media consolidation of local print, radio, and television outlets, de-centering public interest and independent fact-finding as guiding forces shaping media content and resource allocation. New media outlets provide a forum for independent voices and civic engagement.

Youth media entrepreneurship needs to integrate sound business models for generating revenue with a steadfast commitment to community-based economic development and strategies for creating, finding, and spotlighting the independent voices, talents, and creative products of marginalized young people. This function is urgently needed in today’s media landscape and in light of the barriers low income youth and youth of color face in their efforts to participate in civic life, sway public policy, and find living wage jobs even in the San Francisco Bay Area, where nine of every 100 high tech employees in the U.S. are based.

• According to an October 23, 2006 Wall Street Journal article, top tier elite research universities bring in more than $10 million a year in licensing income tied to venture-capital backed efforts to “turn university research projects into profit-making companies… These ventures can make money for students, faculty, and universities and create broader economic benefits in society.”

This development within elite universities raises a whole host of issues, not least the impact of money-making goals on basic science and challenging/critical social research. Those same issues apply, no doubt, when non-profit social justice organizations get in the entrepreneurial game. That said, places like Youth Radio provide a crucial alternative site for digital entrepreneurship and student-led research and development with the potential to funnel resources and opportunities into low income communities. The key, which our students remind us again and again, is for them to be shaping not only venture ideas but also ethics policies that keep firewalls in place and larger social missions to unsettle inequalities front and center.