ethnography

In this episode we are joined by R. Tyson Smith, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology at Haverford College. Tyson conducts research in the areas of health, gender, social psychology, criminal justice, and the military. He joins us to discuss the ethnographic approach he employs in his book, Fighting for Recognition: Identity, Masculinity, and the Act of Violence in Professional Wrestling.

 

Jay Borchert is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Sociology and a Population Studies Center Trainee at the University of Michigan, as well as a Visiting Scholar at the Center for the Study of Law & Society at UC Berkeley School of Law. We discuss research he conducted for his dissertation titled “Mass Incarceration, The Profession of Corrections, and the Way Prison Workers Construct Meanings about their Participation in our Punishment State,” where he conducted ethnographic observation of prisons and semi-structured interviews with correctional officers.

“Dramatic things happened all the time in the prisons. It’s important to be able to manage your emotions and your reactions in those situations. Many prisons have been built in areas of extreme poverty and isolation, particularly in the case of Kentucky. The characteristics of local political economies make going to work in prisons – which is a stable job, with benefits – a logical, if not pleasant, choice for a lot of people. Their choices are understandable. Going in with a judgmental attitude just makes no sense if we claim to know anything about our history and our politics – particularly our racial politics. It makes no sense to do that if we really want to work toward solving social problems.”
 – Jay Borchert – 

In this episode, C.J. Pascoe, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon, joins us to discuss the ethnographic research she conducted for her award-winning book, Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. We discuss the joys of being an ethnographer, the difficulties of accessing youth culture, and how entering the school allowed C.J. a more nuanced understanding of contemporary masculinity.

“What was really interesting was that when I started watching young people and their gendered practices and enactment and also then listening to what they were saying in their reflections about gendered meaning and practices, I didn’t always see and hear things that were congruent with one another. I’d see these young men homophobically harass one each other—call each other ‘fag’, call each other ‘gay’. Then when I did an interview with some man who had engaged in some of that harassment and I asked him about homophobia, he would be like, ‘oh no, gay guys should totally be able to get married’.” 

– C.J. Pascoe – 

 

In this episode, we are joined by Dr. Clifton Evers. Clifton is a member of the Media, Culture, Heritage unit at Newcastle University. He joins us to discuss mobile video ethnography and his use of GoPro cameras to better capture and understand affects, emotion, and masculinity through the study of surfing. Clifton’s chapter on this topic can be found in the recently published edited volume Researching Embodied Sport: Exploring Movement Cultures

I started carrying a very old Handycam everywhere and shooting footage. I eventually got frustrated because I was stuck on land. And, what a lot of the men would speak about or what they would experience in terms of emotions, affects, and embodied experience was happening in the water. So how does one do video research in the sea?

– Clifton Evers –

 

In this episode, we talk with Stefano Bloch. Stefano is an urban geographer specializing in social and spatial theory, cultural criminology, and subcultures. He is currently a Presidential Diversity Fellow in Urban Studies at Brown University. Stefano joins us to reflect on his use of personal autobiography as a source of data and methodological asset. In particular, he turns to his own experience as a member of the graffiti subculture when researching the destruction of the LA Olympic freeway murals by writers over the last 30 years. Stefano’s article on the subject titled “Why Grafitti Writers Write on Murals” is forthcoming in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 

“So often I hear students say the same few things. One of which is, “well, I’m from such a boring area and nothing happened there—we were so monotonous in the way we lived our lives, I didn’t do anything”. And, I remind them, if what they mean by boring is the traditional suburban, homogeneous enclave in the middle of Connecticut, that is, in fact, a revolution in the way in which people have lived. You know, the family with two-parents, two-point-seven kids, the dog, and the attached garage is a rich source of data…You need to de-familiarize your own upbringing. There is no such thing as boring.”
– Stefano Bloch – 

In this episode, we talk with Kathryn Henne, a Senior Research Fellow at the Regulatory Institutions Network, an interdisciplinary research center housed at the Australian National University. We discuss Kathryn’s experience conducting multi-sited fieldwork for her book Testing for Athlete Citizenship: Regulating Doping and Sex in Sport.

“This approach seeks to provide a nuanced understanding of how those localized and observable settings are conditioned, but also connected by those globalized dynamics which may not appear at first sight when you are in one particular site. So it really allows us to trace those processes and movements using qualitative methods.”
– Kathryn Henne – 

Alice Goffman’s ethnographic foray into a black neighborhood in inner city Philadelphia has attracted attention both inside and outside of academia. While On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City was a critical success and Goffman was initially celebrated for her accounts of over-policing and over-criminalization, questions are now being raised about the accuracy of Goffman’s accounts, her participation in illegal activities, and the claims made in the book. Today, Douglas Hartmann, Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, President of the Midwest Sociological Society, and co-editor of The Society Pages joins us to discuss lessons that can be learned from the attention the book has received as well as the larger implications for sociologists and urban ethnographers.

“What’s a good ethnography? There is not a single answer to that. The reason there is not a single answer is because there is a number of different questions and goals that ethnographers can take on…On the one hand, what are the goals and objectives that the researcher him or herself has and try to evaluate the work on those terms. And then, there is another set of terms on what else do we want to learn from that project. That is a different set of standards.”
– Douglas Hartmann –

In this episode, we talk with Daniel Winchester, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Purdue University. Dan joins us to discuss ethnographic research. In particular, Dan explains the value of ethnographic research for better understanding religious conversion and cultural practice.

“How do you get access to people’s lives, people’s experiences, people’s feelings? Of course, you can never do that completely. You don’t become a mind reader. One of the things you do get some insight into by participating in the life of community, is how participating in particular types of activities, and involving yourself in particular types of social relations, change the way people understand and experience the world. And, part of the way you understand that is by doing those things yourself.”
– 
Daniel Winchester –

 

In this episode we discuss an innovative methodological approach to understanding reflexivity and identity when doing ethnographic fieldwork. We talk with Elizabeth Cherry, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Manhattanville College, who collaborated with fellow ethnographers Michaela DeSoucey, Assistant Professor of Sociology at North Carolina State University and Colter Ellis, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Montana State University.

We discuss their article, “Food for Thought, Thought for Food: Consumption, Identity and Ethnography,” published in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography (JCE). This article brings together their field experiences studying animal rights, local food production, and cattle ranching and examines how those experiences re-shaped their own food consumption practices.

For anyone who is interested in being able to defend their claims and say that the research that they gathered was at the very least valid and that they know they were getting answers to the questions they asked, this is a good way to gauge the extent to which you as an individual may have affected the data collection process…. It’s interesting to see the ways in which our identities might shape what we find. It’s a good added methodological tool.
– Liz Cherry – 

Bonus podcasts! Check out Colter Ellis on TSP’s Office Hours Podcast to learn more about his work on beef production and labor and Michaela DeSoucey on TSP’s Office Hours Podcast to learn more about her work on food and cultural authenticity.

In this episode, we talk with Dale C. Spencer, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Manitoba. Dale joins us to discuss ethnographic research. In particular, Dale explains the value of observant participation in understanding the sensory and phenomenological experiences of becoming a mixed martial artist.

“When you are an observant participant, you are at stake. You have a vested interest in succeeding. But the reality of the matter is, you are also open, very clearly, to fail in that world.”
Dale C. Spencer-