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The Ethnographic Imagination

Semester and Year FA 2016
Course Number IDSEM-UG1577
Section 001
Instructor Ritty Lukose
Days M
Time 12:30 PM - 3:15 PM
Units 4
Level U
Requirement   SOC, GLOBAL


This course is now open to all undergraduate students.


Ethnography has been narrowly construed as the research methodology that defines the discipline of cultural anthropology, but this course explores ethnography as both a mode of inquiry and a genre of writing through we grapple with the experience of Self and Other at the intersection of overlapping cultural worlds. We begin by linking modern ethnographic writing to early travel narratives, to missionary accounts, and to colonial reports serving evolving imperial formations.We then examine the consolidation of an "ethnographic" perspective in the emerging discipline of anthropology, as well as more recent critiques of this genre. Our own method is reading classic and contemporary ethnographic works. These reveal ongoing tensions between the scientific and the literary; between abstract "theory" and ethnographic "practice;" and between the claim to truth-telling and the power and limits linked to the positioning of the author. In response to these tensions we also trace the textual experimentation that mixes ethnography, poetry, memoir, and travel writing, fiction, and film. Our goal is to develop a self-reflective ethnographic imagination, open to the possibilities and difficulties in cross-cultural understanding, as we consider the complexities in encounter and contact, looking and describing, representing and translating. Possible texts include travel writings from the period of early European expansion,  Conquest of America  by Todorov,  Argonauts of the Western Pacific  by Malinowski,  Coming of Age in Samoa  by Margaret Mead;  Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography  by Clifford and Marcus,  Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment  by J. Biehl,  In   an Antique Land  by Amitav Ghosh, and the films of Trin Minh Ha.


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Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)