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Writing Across the Curriculum


Come As You Are


Anthropology 137
Long IslandUniversity Fall 2005
Dr. Halbert Barton
M 6:00pm – 8:30pm in LLC507
Office hours: M 2pm-5pm (or by appt.)
Office location and phone: Room H834; x1163
E-mail: halbert.barton@liu.edu


We all come into contact with people from different cultures every day in big cities like New York . We know this by the variety of languages and dialects, clothing styles and dress codes, cuisines and customs, in our midst. Complex societies such as our own are completely saturated with Appadurai calls ethnoscapes (a patchwork panorama of distinct cultural displays) and what Spradley calls cultural scenes , recurring social situations that require some specific forms of knowledge (of symbolism, etc.) in order to participate effectively and appreciate what is really going on beneath appearances. Yet awareness of other cultures is usually pretty superficial (based on over-simplified generalizations and stereotypes) unless someone has migrated, or been exiled, to another country or part of the world, and/or has married into another culture, …in short, has been forced (whether by love or law or necessity) to learn a new language and a new way of doing things. Ethnography is in-depth writing about (and documentation of) different cultures, and about cultural differences within, among, and between social groups. Ethnographies are among the most important texts that cultural anthropologists produce – they are what Geertz calls thick descriptions of other cultures (and cultural differences in general) that aim to do justice to their complexity, providing windows into other ways of seeing the world and other ways of living. Ethnographies teach us that our own way of doing things, our own approach to life, our own perspective and worldview, is inherently limited, not the only way possible, and not necessarily the best way. Cultural learning is a humbling and mind-boggling experience that can be as joyful as it is unsettling, as liberating as it is vexing; it is a boundless and lifelong process that is never entirely complete and must always take into account changing circumstances as well as social and historical conditions. Ethnographers take notes on their experience of cultural immersion (called fieldwork ), compare notes with other ethnographers and dialogue about their experience ( cross-cultural comparison ) in the creation of fieldnotes , a sketch of the cultural scene which will be used as a first draft of and primary source for the final written ethnography. Ethnographies are what enable us to learn from other cultures and learn from our cultural differences, utilizing information and knowledge that has been put to the test among a community of scholars. This course will discuss the importance of ethnography for multicultural learning in contemporary urban society and will emphasize the theories, methods and philosophies which guide ethnographers in their search for better understanding between cultures.

REQUIRED TEXTS (at bookstore, on reserve when available)

Spradley, James. 1988. The Cultural Experience . Waveland.

Wacquant, Loic. 2004. Body and Soul . Oxford .


Podolefsky. 2002. Applying Cultural Anthropology . Mayfield.

Selected articles: additional short readings TBA

Films/Videos: TBA

COURSE REQUIREMENTS: This is a writing intensive course which fulfills LIU Brooklyn 's writing-intensive requirement. For graduation, all students are required to take nine credits of writing-intensive courses. These courses include English 16, Core Seminar, and a WI course in the major.

Lecture attendance is mandatory; note-taking encouraged. Reading assignments are to be completed before class to promote active participation in class discussion. Class participation (essential for receiving high grades) includes both quantity (i.e. attendance) and quality (i.e. being prepared to engage in discussion to the best of your abilities), up to 10% of final grade for overall professionalism (punctuality, preparation, etc.). Quizzes will be given periodically and will count towards participation credit. Additional short writing assignments (1-2 pages) will also count towards participation credit as homework. There will be two exams - midterm count for 20% of the course grade; the final exam will count 30%.

There are four short (3-4 page) writing assignments in the first half of the course that may be revised for the final research portfolio. The major writing assignment (40% of course grade) will include a 16-20 page research portfolio based on an ethnographic project (a “thick description” of a cultural scene to be chosen before the midterm). Prospectus is due at the first exam. Bibliography and first draft are due two weeks after the midterm. The final draft is due at the beginning of the period on the last day of class.

There will be no incompletes and no make-up exams given for this course without a written medical excuse. You will receive a zero for a missed exam or assignment. If there is any student who feels that she or he may need an accommodation for any type of disability, please make an appointment to see me during my office hours.



[Required readings are listed; copies of supplementary readings will be made available in class]

Wk 1-2: Sep 15, 22             Ethnography: What is it?


Introduction - course themes and structure
Review of culture concept: basic aspects; approaches
Ethnography: what, how, why, who, where, for whom
      historical overview of us/them relations: who are “they”?!
      varieties of ethnography: formal/informal modes of cultural learning
Ethnography as cultural translation; ethnomethodology
Cultural Logic: getting the joke, tasting the recipe, learning the rules, etc.
Examples of ethnography in action: Anthropology in Use (sourcebook)

•  Read: Spradley: Ch.1-2

•  Mini-Ethnography #1: “My Starting Points”: describe your sense of community (pride of place; what you value about your cultural location/upbringing) and your favorite cultural scene (where you love to hang out), write as you would to a stranger (2-3 pages). Due 9/22.

Wk 3: Sep 29 How to do it; Learning by Doing

Starting points: pride of place, sense of community
Identifying an ethnographic problem: cultural scenes, stakeholders
Key symbols (Ortner) and cultural problems:
    >> attention to sources of tension and conflict
Balinese cockfight as a cultural scene (Geertz)
Action research: Horton/Freire/MLKing legacy: look/think/act
Case study of cultural problem: literacy/citizenship/democracy(USA/Brazil)

Mini-Ethnography #2 CULTURAL SCENE (2-4 pages) - identify a local cultural scene ; find a way to participate in some aspect of it (participant-observation); and, write a thick description of it. What did you learn by participating (“hanging out”) that you would not have otherwise? Due 9/29.

Wk 4: Oct 6 : Ethnographic interviews and local experts

Read: Spradley , Ch. 3 on interviews, “informants” and local experts

•  Mini-Ethnography #3: ETHNOGRAPHIC INTERVIEW (2-4 pages) – what can you learn about someone's culture (esp. cultural knowledge) by talking to them? Identify a person whose cultural background differs from your own and do a detailed interview with them (begin with a life history, if possible). Remember the difference between biographical and ethnographic interviews (overlapping content but the goals are different). What did you learn by talking to this person that you would not have otherwise? Due 10/13 .

Wk 5: Oct 13 : Cultural meaning – culture as a system of signs and symbols

Read: Spradley: Ch. 4

Wk 6: Oct 20 : Describing cultures

Read: Spradley: Ch. 5

Wk 7: Oct 27 MIDTERM

Read: Spradley: “Ethnographies”

•  Mini-Ethnography #4: RESEARCHING A TOPIC (Prospectus for a possible term topic, plus prelim. bibliography, 4-5 pages, inc. references). Choose a topic that you may want to study in depth for the next six weeks, and locate the research materials that you will need in order to do some effective cultural comparison (seeing your topic in a larger context with points of comparison to be developed in your final paper). Due 10/27 at midterm .

Wk 8: Nov 3 : Review midterm results and discuss student research topics

Wk 9 -12: Nov 10, 17, 24, Dec 1 How to do it better; ethnography in the metropolis; ethnography around the world; from “ethnomethodology” (Spradley) to the “extended case method” (Burawoy)

Wk 9 – 13: Reading and discussing Wacquant in relation to student projects.

Wk 13-14: Dec 8, 15 Student research presentations; course summary



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