Coursework

All members of the Urban Ethnography Lab complete a two-course sequence to become trained and versed in the ethnographic method.

1. Readings in Ethnography

Course description, Fall 2013, Dr. Javier Auyero:

This reading-intensive seminar has four major objectives: 1) to become familiar with some classic and contemporary ethnographies, 2) to acquaint students with the methodological tenets of ethnography, 3) to consider theoretical and epistemological issues in ethnographic research, 4) to discuss narrative strategies in ethnographic writing.

Throughout the semester will we read ethnographies that study different objects from a variety of theoretical perspectives. We will submit these works to a generative reading, that is, we will take the analytic, epistemological, and methodological tools these ethnographies provide to think about our own research objects. To each text we will ask: What theory or theories are being used/refined/extended? Is the ethnographic studied warranted? Is the ethnographic warrant clearly established? Are the methodological tools well delineated? Is the puzzle/enigma clearly defined? How strong/weak are the links between theoretical claims and empirical evidence? How well is the ‘native’s point of view’ captured/reconstructed? How well is the narrative organized? How is the balance between data gathered from interviews and from observations? How lively or engaging is the narrative? How do you feel as a reader?
BEFORE the semester begins, students should have read these three classic ethnographic texts:
Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Death Without Weeping. Philippe Bourgois, In Search of Respect. Paul Willis, Learning to Labor.

2. Qualitative Field Methods  (SOC 388K: Field Methods or Qualitative Methods or Ethnographic Methods)

Course description, Spring 2014, Dr. Harel Shapira:

The primary motivation for this course comes from a desire to provide hands on training for graduate students in ethnographic methods (participant observation and in-depth interviewing). In that sense, with the input and support of Dr. Christine Williams and Dr. Javier Auyero, we thought we would transform the ethnographic methods course into a year-long sequence, with one semester focusing on reading ethnography and the second on doing ethnography.

At the end of the day, its also my effort to mimic (in the best way as I can) training I received as a graduate student at Columbia University from Herb Gans. Gans (a student of  the great Chicago ethnographer Everett Hughes) embraced the “Chicago School” way of doing things: get your hands dirty. He modeled his own practice based seminar on a syllabus he still had from the class he took with Hughes back in 1947, and I myself have now modeled my class on that same syllabus. From day one, when students hit the field,  they are required to conduct at least five hours of fieldwork every week; and submit field notes weekly. On certain weeks they need to turn in reports which ask them to direct their research toward a particular task, such as conducting a life history or attending a public gathering.

The majority of class time is spent with students providing updates on their research and engaging in a collective conversation on issues and ideas that come up in the process of data collection. Beyond this, the course has a basic motivation to have students go out and learn about the communities in which they live. I think this is something all students should do, but has a particular importance when they are at a public institution such as ours, whose mission is and should be to learn about, learn from, and perhaps give something back to the larger public. Our class is focusing on the Rundberg neighborhood of North Austin, a choice inspired by our own Dr. David Kirk who has been working in the area as part of the Restore Rundberg initiative. Dave’s help in both setting up this class and also providing guidance to myself and the students, has been invaluable.

There is a second motivation here, which is that (unfortunately) very little sociological research has been carried out in Texas. Indeed, and especially when it comes to urban sociology, a couple of cities (Chicago and Los Angeles, most notably) dominate the field. Without wanting to criticize all the foundational work that has been produced out of those places, I do find it both morally unfortunate that our knowledge base is limited. But also, it raises scientific issues if our models of urbanization and urban poverty are drawn from a limited set of cases.

It would therefore be wonderful if we can begin to train a group of students who will begin to use Austin, and the wider scope of Texas (which currently has four of the fastest growing cities in the states) as a kind of laboratory in much the same way that Everett Hughes and his students used Chicago as a laboratory.