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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 paper. In order to do this, students will take on the role of an anthropologist interested in contemporary local subcultures. They will be observing, researching, and analyzing one cultural aspect of life at UNC or Chapel Hill. To complete this study, they 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.

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 subculture or cultural phenomenon. 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, 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: Ethnography Presentations” to access the videos of their presentations, accompanied by transcripts, or you can just click here.


NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, this course, as of March 2020, has transitioned to a course taught online. Instead of delivering in-class presentations, students will record a video of their presentations remotely and will eventually post those videos to this course website. Ideally, this process will still allow them to share their research and to learn and practice best techniques for oral communication and presentations while allowing us to maintain the practice of social distancing for everyone’s safety.  —Paul Blom


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