Cultural Scene Ethnography Project

Cultural Scene Ethnography Project
The purpose of this assignment is to enable your participation in a cultural experience by doing some of
the general ethnographic fieldwork in an American cultural scene that is somewhat familiar. A cultural
scene may be defined as “a geographic or symbolic place where two or more people repeatedly share
activities that lead to shared understandings” (Kutsche 1998:85). Examples are abundant: schools,
playgrounds, skatepark, farms, nursing homes, restaurants, grocery stores and churches. These would
all qualify as cultural scene. Most of these could also be broken down into smaller “scenes within the
scene,” such as a particular classroom in a school, or the emergency room of a hospital.
Your first procedure will be to select a scene for the site of your research. It is often helpful to choose a
site which is completely foreign to you but about which you are curious; this will heighten your
“outsider’s” perspective. However, for the purposes of this course it is also possible to choose a site
which you are already involved with in some significant way, either through work or other activity. In
this case, you must try to imagine yourself as an “outsider” to see these already familiar surroundings
from an observer’s point of view.

This project focuses on the primary anthropological research process known as ethnography and the
research technique known as participant-observation. In writing your ethnography, your primary goals
will be to capture both the insider’s and the outsider’s point of view, and to provide a cultural analysis.
It must be remembered that an ethnography is not merely an objective description of people and their
behavior from the observer’s viewpoint; it is a systematic and careful attempt to discover the knowledge
a group of people have learned and are using to organize their behavior. Instead of asking, “What do I
see these people doing?” it is essential that we ask, “What do these people see themselves doing?” This
is important in acquiring an anthropological perspective and a deeper understanding of American
culture and society. Ethnography is the task of discovering and describing a society’s culture. Culture,
then, consists of the beliefs and behavior people learn and show as members of a society.
You should describe your cultural scene, a reflection examining your initial feelings, preconceptions and
ideas about this site and the people who participate, live and/or work there. Be as honest as possible in
order to reveal your initial point of view. If you choose a site which you are already familiar with, try to
imagine how it might appear to someone who is approaching it for the first time. If you remember your
won initial impressions, you may discuss them.
Your final project should include the following:
Introduction
Why you chose this site, what your preconceptions were, what you hoped to learn, what methodology
your used (i.e. participant-observation, interviewing, surveys, background research, document and
artifact collection, etc.)
Physical Description
A physical description of your cultural scene from an “outsider’s” perspective (i.e. the setting and overall
environment)
Description of the People
A description of the people at the site and their various roles and norms. (i.e. the social structure) Also
include a reflection on your role as primarily an “outsider” or as an “insider”
Cultural Analysis
An in-depth cultural analysis of the “inside” point of view; i.e., what types of shared understandings are
present, and how do they affect behavior? Are there any significant problems or issues? Try to focus on
a particular aspect or problem typical of your site’s culture and explore it in detail. Make sure to include
aspects of what we have gone over this semester- (i.e. Language, Tourism, Religion, Laws & Politics,
Tenets of Culture, etc. )
Personal Assessment
A personal assessment of what you have learned; i.e., whether your ideas about the scene changed very
much from your initial assumptions, whether you feel your research was effective or not.
Optional
Photographs, drawings, videos, recordings, etc.
Remember the primary purpose of this project is to gain an anthropological perspective on American
culture, as well as making anthropology fun to study.
Here is a sample list of some you may use but is not limited to this list.
Ethnography of a college club
Important Religious Event such as a wedding or a funeral
Economics of a household
Restaurant or a bar
Recreation group, such as a snowmobile club or backpacking group
Skatepark
Hospital Volunteers
Work Experience
Requirements:
This paper should be five pages, double spaced and typed. Papers must be turned in to Canvas by the
date it is due. As we are currently experiencing social distancing from COVID-19 you may use online
resources to research a culture. There are many social media groups that could assist you in learning
about a different micro-culture. One example may be Disney World Annual Passholder groups,
Skateboarding Culture Groups, Surfing Groups. These are all micro-cultures and can be studied to learn
more about a culture that you are not familiar with. You will be graded according to the attached
rubric.

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