Ethnographic Media Revisited

I thought I’d go ahead and post an updated version of my syllabus for the course I’m teaching on ethnographic methods at UC Berkeley’s Grad School of Education–this one includes some opening thoughts, the semester’s assignments, and some new texts based on feedback so far (including some offered here–so thank you!). Already in our first discussion, we touched on some potentially provocative ways to integrate youth media production into “data collection” within participatory action research projects. One of the weeks I’m most looking forward to is when my Youth Radio colleague Patrick Johnson will come talk with students about ethnographic categories applied to “urban youth” in popular culture and media. Here’s the latest:

Course Description

Ethnography asks big questions. How do people create identities, intimacies and antagonisms? How do we celebrate and punish, forget and remember, dwell and migrate, labor and exchange? How do we learn, classify, and label? What stories do we tell?

To pursue big questions like these, ethnographers make much of small situations—a meal, a furtive text message exchange, a pattern of gaze aversion during circle time by one student in a second grade classroom…. The challenge is often to find what’s significant in the apparently unremarkable, to discover cultural organization in the messiness of everyday life, and to reveal the contradictions that social order hides.

In this course, we will explore the theoretical underpinnings, uses, and abuses of qualitative research methods, with emphasis on participant observation, interview, and ethnography of communication. Over the course of the semester, you will: frame a research question; identify and move through study sites; carry out field work; analyze and theorize data, and “write up” your research story. Building technique—actually doing fieldwork—is only one intention for the course. The other is for us to conceptualize and critique various methodological traditions, by examining their shifting ethics, politics, epistemologies, and social impacts.

This work requires reflexivity on our part, and so the semester’s readings begin at a moment of heightened reflexivity in anthropology itself—with a series of essays where ethnographers started worrying a lot about how they were constructing, not just reporting, partial truths in their texts, how they were complicit characters, not distant narrators, in their own cultural scenes. It’s perhaps a weird place to begin, in the recent past rather than with ethnography’s origins, but my hope is that starting with reflexivity will keep us in that state of mind throughout the semester and beyond.


Reading Presentation/Facilitation: Twice during the semester, I will ask you to work in pairs to present one week’s worth of readings and facilitate discussion about those texts. Deploy your pedagogical know-how to engage us! You might use small group activities, role play, free writing, media clips, or any other strategies you can think of to deepen our understanding of the texts as they relate to our individual and shared work as qualitative researchers.

The Study: A major focus of the class will be to carry out a small-scale qualitative research study. Toward that end, at regular intervals over the course of the semester, you will turn in:

Topic statement: What do you know and not know about a topic in education that sparks your intellectual passion? Why is this topic important and for whom? What stake do you personally have in this topic? In what way does it lend itself to qualitative study? DUE: Week 2
Problem statement: Present your topic as a problem (to be explained), offering a conceptual framework (to be explained) and identifying three possible research questions. Be sure to consider how both you and your study “subjects” are agents in your research. DUE: Week 4
Sites statement: Describe two possible multi-sited “geographies” (to be explained) for exploring your problem and pursuing your questions. DUE: Week 6
Fieldwork and analysis statement: Outline your study design, specifying how you will use participant observation and interviews in your research. Include one interview protocol. Articulate your “decision rules” (to be explained) and plans for analysis. DUE: Week 8
Field documents: Three sets of fieldnotes and one interview transcript. DUE: Weeks 5, 7, 12 (fieldnotes) & Week 11 (interview transcript)
Conceptual memo: Draw from your data to begin forming a preliminary argument. DUE: Week 13
Final work in progress paper: Compilation of all of the above (rest assured, we’ll agree on clear guidelines and criteria for evaluation well before the paper is due, and we will definitely consider this a preliminary, exploratory, emerging text to be further developed through semester two). DUE: Week 15

Attendance and Participation: Preparedness, willingness to contribute, willingness to struggle with the ideas and materials, active listening, and constructive attitude. For the course to function as a seminar, it is of course required that everyone read all the assigned texts and arrive to class ready to dig in.

Assessment: I see evaluation as an important opportunity for communication. I’ll make sure there’s plenty of opportunity before any assignment is due to clarify the criteria I will use to evaluate each of the course requirements. Please feel free to raise questions during class if the evaluation procedures seem unclear at any point, either in the full group, or with me individually. Late assignments will be accepted only if prior arrangements have been made with me.

Discussion Facilitations: 15%
Research Statements, Records, and Memo: 45%
Final Paper: 15%
Attendance and Participation: 25%

Sequence of Topics and Texts

Week 1:

Arrival Scenes: What Are We Getting Ourselves Into?

Syllabus Review
Peer-to-Peer Interview

Week 2:

Spinning at the Mirror: Reflexivity and Ethnographic “Turns”

Gupta, A. & Ferguson, J. 1997. Anthropological locations: Boundaries and grounds of a field science. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1-46.

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.

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

DUE: Topic Statement (two page max)

Week 3:

The Never-Ending Conversation: Writing Subjects

Clifford, J. & Marcus, G. 1986. Writing culture: The poetics and politics of ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1-26.

Behar, R. & Gordon, D. 1995. Women writing culture. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1-29, 49-64.

Visweswaran, K. 1994. Fictions in feminist ethnography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1-39.

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 4:

Discovering What We Don’t Know: Getting Started

Berg, Bruce. Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. 5th edition. Pearson. 1-52.

Maxwell, Joseph. Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach. 33-78.

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. 10-66.

DUE: Problem Statement (two page max)

Week 5:

“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. 3-30.

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.

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

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

DUE: Fieldnotes #1

Week 6:

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. 57-78.

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.

Gutierrez, K., Rymes, B., and Larson, J. 1995. Script, counterscript, and underlife in the classroom: James Brown versus Brown v. Board of Education. Harvard Educational Review. 65 (3), 445-471.

Lee, C. 2006. ‘Every good-bye ain’t gone’: Analyzing the cultural underpinnings of classroom talk. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 19(3), 305-327.

DUE: Sites Statement (two page max)

Week 7:

Perpetual Writing: Field Notes

Emerson, R., Fretz, R. & Shaw, L. 1995. Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1-65.

Cintron, R. 1997. Angels’ Town: Chero ways, gang life, and rhetorics of everyday life. Boston: Beacon Press. Chapter 1 (Starting Places, 1-14) and Chapter 4 (A Boy and His Wall, 98-129).

Valenzuela, A. 1999. Subtractive schooling: U.S.-Mexican youth and the politics of caring. Albany: SUNY Press. 61-113, 273-289.

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

DUE: Fieldnotes #2

Week 8:

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.

Caplan, P. 2003. Ethics of Anthropology: Debates and Dilemmas. New York: Routledge. 133-154.

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

DUE: Fieldwork and Analysis Statement (three page max, including interview protocol)

Week 9:

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:

GUEST: Representative from UCB IRB

ON YOUR OWN: Independent fieldwork, human subjects proposal prep

Week 10:

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. 1-60.

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.

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

Weiss, Robert S. 1994. Learning from Strangers: The Art and Method of Qualitative Interview Studies. New York: Free Press. 1-33, 61-83.

ON YOUR OWN: Independent fieldwork, revision of interview protocol

Week 11:

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

Clips from School Colors, a documentary about race, tracking, discipline and achievement at Berkeley High

DUE: Interview transcript

Week 12:

Tackling the Towering Pile: Analysis

LeCompte, M. & Preissle, J. 2003. Ethnography and qualitative design in educational research. San Diego: Academic Press. 234-278.

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.

Valli, L. & Chambliss, M. 2007. Creating classroom cultures: One teacher, two lessons, and a high-stakes test. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 38(1), 57-75.

ON YOUR OWN: Discuss questions and preliminary analysis with research participants

DUE: Fieldnotes #3

Week 13:

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. 25-60.

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.

Lee, S. 2001. More than ‘model minorities’ or ‘delinquents’: A look at Hmong American high school students. Harvard Educational Review. 71(3), 505-527.

Clips from The Wire, Stoop Kids and Corner Kids

GUEST: Patrick Johnson, Youth Radio

DUE: Conceptual Memo

Week 14:

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.

Fordham, S. & Ogbu, J. 1986. Black students’ school success: Coping with the “‘burden of ‘acting white.’” Urban Review. 18(3).

Denzin, N., Lincoln, Y., Giardina, M. 2006. Disciplining qualitative research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education. 19(6), 769-782.

DUE: Come to class prepared to present and discuss preliminary/emergent findings

Week 15:


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.

Maira, S. 2005. The intimate and the imperial: South Asian Muslim immigrant youth after 9/11. In S. Maira & E. Soep (Eds.) Youthscapes: The popular, the national, the global (64-81). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

boyd, d. (in press) “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked
al Life.” MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning, Identity Volume (ed.
David Buckingham).

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

DUE: Final Paper


3 Responses to Ethnographic Media Revisited

  1. […] which in turn provides room for more people to comment on them and contribute to them. Here’s a syllabus for a class on ethnographic research that I wish I could be taking right […]

  2. lalitha says:

    looks like a great course! especially like the question about including youth media production in data collection…

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