Ethnography and the Arts

Sherry Ortner describes ethnography as "the attempt to understand another life world using the self -- as much of it as possible -- as the instrument of knowing." Ethnographic methods are associated particularly with anthropological studies, although they have also been widely adapted in other areas of social and cultural investigation.

This class will provide an introduction to participant-observation methods and the broader contemporary practice of ethnography, with a particular emphasis on its relevance in the arts and cultural production. This includes ethnographic studies of art and art practice, ethnographic engagement with the topics and objects of cultural production, the role of artistic work within the ethnographic process itself, and the relationship between ethnographic engagement and dialogical and relational aesthetics.

Grades will be based on participation in online and in-class discussion, and on a project report due at the end of the quarter.

Although I have drafted a syllabus for the first few weeks of the class, everything is provisional at this point. Previous experience suggests that this class, more than most, will develop its own character as our conversation progresses. In particular, it is my habit in these classes to organize class meetings in the second half of the quarter as data sessions, in which we can collectively engaging with work emerging from your projects, and as discussions around themes that emerge from those sessions. The schedule here is based on last year's offering, but it will change and adapt depending on the progress of the projects that you conduct.

Weekly Discussions

Most of the quarter is structured around in-class discussions of readings (see schedule below). For most classes, two students will be selected to lead the discussion. Everyone else should post a response to the readings online, due 24 hours before the class starts (in order to give the discussion leaders time to use them to prepare for the discussion.) Your participation in discussions, online and in class, will be one component of your grade for the class.

Discussion responses should be posted on the class wiki. You can login using your UCINet ID.

Project Work

The second component of your evaluation is a term paper. The paper is based on an ethnographic project that you will conduct during the course of the quarter. I normally prefer that these projects be conducted in pairs, presuming that we have an appropriate number of people registered for the class.


The readings are stored on UCI's webfiles service. To gain access, you will first need an activated UCINet ID, and then to register for a Webfiles account.

1/5 Introduction and course overview
1/7 Discussion
1/12 Observation and interviewing
1/14 Coding and grounded analysis
1/15 End of Week 2: Project abstracts due
1/19 Virtuality
1/21 Rhetoric and reportage

Media and Imagination


Labor, coordination, and human computation

2/2 Data Session #1
2/4 Data Session #2

No class (CSCW)


No class (CSCW)

2/16 Interim project reports

2/18 Individual meetings
2/23 Theory and theory-building
2/25 No class (HCIC)
3/2 Project Updates
3/4 Weaving Theory and Data
3/9 Individual meetings

3/11 Individual meetings
3/12 End of Week 10: Reports due

Other Readings (an evolving list)