What is ethnography? In anthropology, ethnography is both something to know and a way of knowing. It is an orientation or epistemology, a type of writing, and also a methodology. As a method, ethnography is an embodied, empirical, and experiential field-based way of knowing centered around participant-observation. This is obvious to anthropologists as it has been our central method for the last century. However, what ethnography is, how it works, and the unique specificity of ethnographic data is not always clear to outsiders, whether they are other researchers, officials, or members of the communities with whom we are working. Why is this, and how do we explain ethnography and its value when we are in the field? In April, we started a conversation about this in person at a conference at Cornell University, emailed back and forth over the summer, and concluded the conversation this month at a conference at the University of Colorado. We cover topics including the context of research, questions of technology, IRBs, being a native anthropologist, the usefulness of ethnography and stories, and ethnographic research as a unique sort of data.
Fatima,* a refugee from Somalia who is a newcomer to Canada, has been having trouble in her local supermarket. Back home, she was accustomed to milk fresh from the cow. “In Canada I don’t even know if it’s real milk or fake milk,” she said. “I don’t know the difference. Is there milk that has pork-related ingredients in it?”
What’s your favorite coin? Is it a refined, delicate, and dignified Roosevelt dime? A useless but comfortingly familiar Lincoln penny? The ubiquitous Washington quarter?
I prefer silver dollars, but not recent ones—they look and feel too much like quarters.
I like Eisenhower dollar coins, which were minted from 1971 to 1978. Their large size—a full 1.5 inches across—makes them distinctive and readily identifiable in your pocket, if you still carry coins. And their design acknowledged the 1969 moon landing with an engraving of an eagle landing on the moon and the earth in the distance, which is pretty cool.
But my all-time favorite is the Morgan dollar, which was minted from 1878 through 1904 and again (briefly) in 1921. It’s one of the few American coins to have been minted in five different cities: Philadelphia, New Orleans, Denver, Carson City, and San Francisco. (These days only the Denver and Philadelphia mints produce coins for circulation.) An astonishing 657 million Morgan dollars were created. Best estimates suggest that only about 1.4 million coins survive; sadly, most of the others have been melted down.
It’s a hell of a story: DNA analysis of a 10th century skeleton found at a burial in the Swedish town of Birka — a huge trade hub — revealed that a Viking military leader was actually a woman.
This article was originally published at The Conversation and has been republished under Creative Commons.
A rumbling, low boom unfurled over the land like a current of thunder. But it was a clear, cloudless day in northern Arizona. We realized the reverberation was the echo of an explosion—dynamite loosening the earth—and that the strip mine was finding its way toward a colossal seam of coal.
The amount of time humans have spent living in cities is an infinitesimal speck in the scope of hominid evolution. It took our species something like 200,000 years to get around to trying out living in the same place all year round. Then, it took thousands of years of experimentation for those patchy early settlements to become the cities we recognize today, and it’s just in these last few years that the number of city dwellers has finally outstripped that of our country cousins. We are now officially an urban planet—but why did it take us so long to get here? If cities are so great, why are they full of things that kill us? Urban life serves up a terrifying cocktail of the most dangerous things known to our species—disease, inequality, and, of course, other people. It’s not unreasonable to ask: Why have we made cities this way?
An interview with anthropologist Elena Garcia
The following is a reprinted interview conducted by journalist Lucia Mbomio and originally published in “Afroféminas” (Spanish language source). It is republished by Global Voices with permission of the website organizers.