Blog Post 1: Assignment Description

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Malinowski conducting fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands, Melanesia. For more, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronisław_Malinowski

 

Ethnography, the official research method of anthropology, was developed by Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski during the second decade of the 20th century. Since then, ethnography has been developed and adapted by many other disciplines. It is used in a wide range of fields from marketing to political science to economics to performance studies.

During the first three weeks of classes, you should have made at least two visits to your field site and completed three field journal entries: “Map of a Block,” “Vocabulary of your Field,” and “Body Language,” based on projects in the textbook Field Ethnography: A Manual for Doing Cultural Anthropology, by Paul Kutsche.  In class, we discussed issues related to field research, including the need to pay close attention to and document empirical evidence (what you see, hear, and feel), the need to generate rapport by spending time in your field site and interacting respectfully with people there, and the need to open your mind to challenge pre-existing assumptions and paradigms. Above all, remember that “the people anthropologists study are their teachers” (Kutsche, p. 5). You are in China to learn from people living in China about their culture.

Now, it is time to generate your first formal reflection about your field research project. This reflection, which is like a digital version of a short academic paper, should aim to accomplish the following goals (not necessarily in this order):

  • Introduce your reader to your field site and your reasons for choosing it
  • Select one key interaction, word, or object to use as a “window” into your field site. Describe the interaction, word, or object, including how or where it appears in your field site. This may be a story, a detailed description, or a series of explanations based on what you have learned so far about your subject. It should be based on empirical data (what you see and hear in your field site). Keep in mind the exercise we did in class last week and our discussion of what makes good field writing.
  • Offer your own explanation or interpretation of the significance of your key interaction, word, or object for your overall project and for understanding the subculture you are exploring in your fieldwork project. This is where you take your empirical data to the next step: analysis. Your analysis may introduce key ideas (“oasis,” “historical memory,” “tea culture,” “theatricalization of space”). This component will likely include research you have done outside your field visits. This may include material gathered from the website and/or printed materials from your field site, additional conversations you have had with other people who know something about your topic, news articles related to your topic, other experiences in China, etc. You should cite these materials in your blog and include a short bibliography.
  • Images and at least one other type of multi-media material that directly support the ideas in your blog post. Remember to always introduce and/or reference the audio-visual components in the text. If you have trouble getting something to work on your blog, contact Fang Laoshi for help.

You will have about five minutes to present and discuss your Blog Post in class on Wednesday, so think about how you would like to do this. Also, refer to the general requirements for the Blog Posts as listed in the course syllabus.

Don’t get frustrated! Keep in mind that I am a fieldworker too, and everyone who has conducted fieldwork knows how difficult it can sometimes be. (If you are curious about my research, see a link to an article on Chinese dance I published last year.) Even when it may not seem like it, you are always learning something in your field site — it just takes time and thought to figure out what that is.

Good luck!

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Wei Laoshi conducting fieldwork at the Beijing Dance Academy