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For our second unit, students will conduct their own ethnographic study and present their findings in the form of an academic conference presentation. (Because we cannot gather in person, students will deliver their presentations in the form of pre-recorded videos.) In order to complete this presentation, students will take on the role of an anthropologist interested in contemporary local subcultures and gathering spaces. They will be observing, researching, and analyzing one cultural aspect of life at UNC or Chapel Hill. (Students taking this class from a distance can choose another topic based on their current location.)

To complete this study, students will conduct an ethnography of their chosen subculture. “Ethnography” means, literally, a portrait (graph) of a group of people (ethnos). An ethnography is a social, political, and/or historical portrait of a specific group of people or a particular situation or practice, at a particular period in time, and within a particular context or space. Ethnographies have traditionally been based on an anthropologist’s long-term, firsthand research (called “fieldwork”) in the place and among the people or activities they are studying. Students will employ the methodology of “participant observation” to complete their ethnography.

Because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, people will not be gathering and interacting in groups in the usual manner. For this reason, the subculture each student selects will be the group of people using a specific site or location at UNC or in Chapel Hill. (In their observational work, students also consider how their chosen site was originally designed or intended and how it has been altered or adapted in response to the current pandemic and/or other factors.)

In this unit, students will complete two feeders: Feeder 2.1 is an annotated bibliography, a useful research tool for understanding the existing scholarly conversation around a given topic. Feeder 2.2 is their typed and coded field notes from the primary research they will conduct in the field.

Students will then synthesize these two feeder assignments into an academic conference paper for a presentation lasting between four and five minutes in which they discuss their ethnographic study of their chosen site and the people using that site. Students will post the script of their presentation in advance, complete with section headings and a complete References list. This transcript will eventually be paired with a video-recording of the presentation they give to the rest of the class on their research and findings so future audiences and scholars can revisit their work.

In Unit 1, students conducted secondary research and practiced translating academic work into a language, style, and genre accessible to a non-expert audience. Unit 2 builds upon this by exposing students to conducting primary research in the field. They also conduct secondary research to help them generate their own research question and to guide and contextualize their own primary research.

This unit allows students to enter the scholarly discourse around their chosen subculture of study by allowing them to synthesize their research (both primary and secondary) into an academic conference presentation in which they share their unique findings. This experience exposes students to one of the most common methods for disseminating knowledge in academia both as presenters and as audience members while also allowing them to learn and practice best techniques for oral communication and presentation.

For more information, see the Unit 2 Assignment Prompt (revised 8-20-2020), which should be accompanied by instructions for field notes for preliminary observations and a quick guide to interviews and observations.


And of course, be sure to explore the students’ completed ethnography presentations. In the drop-down menu for “Categories,” choose “Social Sciences: Site Ethnography Presentations” and look for the appropriate section to access the videos of their presentations, accompanied by transcripts, or you can just click here for Section 079 and click here for Section 091.

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