This July, I’m teaching my Brooklyn Institute for Social Research class, Anthropology at Ethnographic Theory again! This time, we’ll explore some long-time concerns of anthropologists, like kinship, economy, and the boundaries of “the human”, through current areas of anthropological interest, like reproductive technologies and the Anthropocene. We’ll link contemporary theory with past bodies of knowledge, and explore how ethnographic methods are adapting to take on contemporary issues.
Class meets on Tuesdays in July, starting July 9th, at the NEW Brooklyn Institute HQ office, 68 Jay Street, #308, Brooklyn, NY 11201.
Developed as a tool for colonial empire-building at the close of the 19th century, the ethnographic method has become an important practice for telling the stories of the oppressed, designing for the future, and demanding social change. British and American anthropologists were initially concerned with understanding the discrete cultures of “savage” tribes in faraway places. Today, however, anthropologists often seek to understand what dynamics shape ideas about the local and the global, generality and specificity, the material and the symbolic, and similarity and difference in more familiar sites of human activity, including scientific laboratories, urban metropolitan centers, global networks of high-tech experts, and more. How did this transformation take place, and what does it mean for the future of how we humans study and understand ourselves?
This class will survey several enduring concerns in anthropology and ethnographic theory: the life, death, and afterlife of “the culture concept”; the connections between kinship, gift exchange, and the economy; and the challenge of adapting a methodology designed to study local conditions to study global trade, migration, and connection in the 21st century. We will read some of the old classics – including texts by Bronislaw Malinowski, Marcel Mauss, and Clifford Geertz – as well as feminist interventions by Marilyn Strathern and Lila Abu-Lughod, methodological innovations from science studies ethnographers like Bruno Latour, and reconfigurations of Marxist theory by Arjun Appadurai and Elizabeth Chin.
Throughout the course, we will pay close attention to the interplay between ethnographic theories of human social life and the methods (including new approaches like autoethnography and multi-sited ethnography) used to produce them. Supplementary readings will be suggested for each week that provide more examples of current ethnographic research and methods.