Go to Macy’s in Herald Square or, if that is not possible, put on a face mask and go to a large department store near your home and spend 2.5 hours in a single location within the store (in other words, don’t wander throughout the store. Pick a single area and stay there). If you do not feel comfortable being inside a store, you may choose to perform your participant observation in park or public outdoor space that you are able to visit safely. Be sure that you engage in participant observation, not just observation (this means – for example – that in a retail environment you should try on some shoes or clothes, ask to see some jewelry or handbags on display, or sample products from a makeup counter. If you are in park, sit on various benches, enter dog runs, sit in the grass, walk around – basically do what you see others doing).
Field Notes: Bring a pen and a small notepad or take notes on your phone.
What should you be recording in your field notes? Possibilities include but are not limited to: the physical space of your chosen area and whatever you perceive as its effect on human movement and behavior; demography of customers and employees; which products/racks/displays/features attract the most attention and the least attention; how people interact with one another; your own feelings throughout the process of participant-observation; any notable or seemingly unusual people or actions; average time people spend in your chosen area; demeanor and actions of employees; demeanor and actions of customers. Remember that field work is an embodied experience – pay attention to what all five senses are telling you. Other things you might consider: Do you notice new things as time passes? Do some things that immediately capture your attention become less interesting the longer you are there? What changes? Also be sure to think about all the ways in which face masks and social distancing have shaped the culture of your chosen location!
You can and ideally should take some field notes while you are at your location, but you should also take some time immediately after your observation to reflect on your experience.
There are two options for this essay:
- After your participant observation at Macy’s/another department store/public green space, use your observations of the culture of your chosen environment as a “mirror” (as described in William Sax’s “Hall of Mirrors”) to reflect on some aspect your own background. Be sure that your observations are all supported by specific details from your participant observation at your chosen environment. Does looking at the “Other” make the familiar strange or does the strange seem, upon reflection, familiar? Be sure your essay specifically references “Hall of Mirrors” and at least one other relevant course reading.
- After your participant observation at Macy’s/another department store/public green space, using “Body and Ritual Among the Nacirema” as a model, write an ethnographic report about the culture of “S’ycam” (or the whatever place you did research spelled backwards – so for example, Target would be Tegrat). In other words, with this option you will write about something from your own familiar NYC culture in a way that makes it seem strange (just like the author did in “Body and Ritual Among the Nacirema”). For the Nacirema, the author tells us that “the fundamental belief underlying the whole system is that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to disability and disease.” In your essay, based on your observations, suggest a fundamental belief, value, or assumption that you think underlies the activities of the people (patrons? devotees?) of S’ycam/your chosen location and what rituals or other cultural forms or actions develop in response to this belief.
Your paper will be graded on the quality of your ethnographic data, the quality of your writing, and the originality of your observations. Feedback will be given using a rubric based on the following categories:
- Quality of writing: grammar, spelling, and punctuation
- Quality of writing: organization, length
- Originality of argument
- Quality of ethnographic description
- Demonstrated comprehension of course readings
- Quality of application of course readings and concepts to ethnographic description
The paper should be a minimum of three FULL double-spaced pages in 12 point Times New Roman font. Your field notes should be attached to the document but do not count towards the page total. Maximum paper length is four pages.