Methodologies II: Constructing an Ethnography

Posted in Assignments on September 23rd, 2015 by Arielle Steele

Constructing an ethnographical study is no easy task, but if I had to craft a study on “A Year in the Life of Africana Studies at Williams College,” I first would identify my players. Being that I enjoy video production more so than traditional essay writing, I would allow my cast/participants dictate the flow of the narrative rather than box them in by a rigid thesis. As I gather information through formal interviews and casual conversation, I would piece together certain themes and at last make my presentation on life in Africana studies at Williams.

That being said, I would want two different informants on the Africana studies culture: a professor and a student. Though I am technically an insider to this group, therefore establishing an emic perspective, the informants would give me both a sort of removed structural look at the field, and an immersed perspective of the student. Professors take on a natural role as teacher (Murchison, 90), and therefore would be best suited for this role. However they cannot truly know what it is like to be a student of their own teachings, furthermore a student in the discipline at Williams College. Senior and junior students would be necessary to round out this full picture of habitual study.

But the question is what is habitual study in the Africana field at Williams? What does it entail? Beyond the late nights of writing and the pondering of a dossier, what is the stuff that defines Africana study? Is it the interconnectedness that the small space of Williams allows? Are the courses underscoring students’ lives on campus? I would be pursuing questions that give a sort of texturing, a dynamism to this life.

After all I wouldn’t want it to be boring. “A Year in the Life of Africana Studies at Williams College” would need to be as colorful as the 20-some odd people that make up the discipline at our particular location. To truly encapsulate the almost inexplicable texturing that makes up this field, I would need multiple participants that have a long memory of what the field was like in the past and now. Aside from analytical questions, which have the danger of damaging native language of the informer (Spradley, 93), I would also seek information deemed banal such as: schedules, which classes are highly sought after, what is a typical day like in class. Questions that make up the everyday. These questions broad and specific would be needed to deliver a snippet of this world to an audience.

In a perfect world the video ethnography would be a great medium to give this cursory look at Africana at Williams, however issues of consent, privacy, and scheduling complicate the matter. Therefore outside of leaning on casual conversation and recruiting friends, I would possibly ‘table’ (advertise the making of my film at a open table) in Paresky Center. There not only would I have contracts of agreements, stipulations of my study including the purpose of my study and agreeing to have one’s likeness reproduced on film (either aural or visual), but also time slots of when I could meet with possible willing participants. This method would largely attract students in an open and honest way. Professors would prove more difficult, but if confronted with the possibility of keeping this video for posterity and an analysis of Africana at Williams, with their consent, their interest would be peaked.

Lastly outside of scheduled interviews and filmings, I would ask to audit classes to observe the dynamics, and gather that texturing that one can only experience.

Ultimately the video ethnography would be one encompassing the experience of all seasoned members of the field but would be in the perspective of the student.

The college experience is made up of many members but it’s heart lies in the student.


Works Cited

Murchison, Julian. “What is Ethnography” and “Participant Observation,”

Spradley, James. “Informants” and “Locating an Interviewing an Informant”

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What is Research?

Posted in raw thought on September 23rd, 2015 by Arielle Steele
  1. work that seeks to unravel the mystery in any given subject
  2. a collection of information (dialectic, textual, aural or otherwise) gathered to reach a new understanding of any subject. the status of this collection can have a definitive end or not.
  3. a certifiable lowkey bop by Big Sean that I pretend not to like
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Methodologies: Identifying and Assessing Sources

Posted in Assignments on September 23rd, 2015 by Arielle Steele


AFR 402

September 16, 2015

Identifying and Assessing Sources

            When writing any kind of academic essay, article, or thesis a choice must be made in regard of sources. Outside of information these sources dictate the style and the texture of the piece one is writing. In the writings of Colin Palmer, Lewis Gordon, and Ruth Reviere exist three different examples of how one might integrate various sources to supplement their assertions on African American Studies.

Colin Palmer, the first of our three authors, offers a more traditional thesis. Armed with an abstract, background, and chronology Palmer lays out a full history and possible future for African American studies. His sources aid the almost clinical feel of his piece, citing a mixture of historical texts, books and theoretical articles questioning the place of African American studies. With each assertion made about the academic field of African American studies, its history and methodologies, Palmer takes care to contextualize it with actual time pieces such as Langston Hughe’s “I, too, Sing America.” Palmer offers the young research student the quintessential exemplar of The Research Essay.

On the other hand Lewis R. Gordon offers the reader an alternative to the sterility of the research essay, by offering a smooth article pondering the actual workings of the African Diasporic Field. Published in The Black Scholar, Gordon’s piece works from a small group of material rather than the broad scope of sources exhibited in Palmer’s essay. That being said his article is infused with nothing but substantive sources that drive this theoretical article forward, instead of fact-of-the-matter general historical sources. Because Gordon is not working entirely from a historical framework, he is free to delve deeply in his claims and texts.

Lastly Ruth Reviere employs all sorts of sources to supplement her call for an even more Afro-centralized African Diasporic studies field. Between published collections of essays, novels, APA journals, and academic as well as newspaper articles Reviere seems to have it all. However her piece seems to be primarily focused on one text while the others simply serve as a reference for the reader. Her references don’t offer the reader a history, and seem to be quickly thrown in to protect intellectual property. Though her sources for the most part aren’t general, they don’t seem to be entirely employed. These three authors offer the research student a close look at the various kinds of work they can do but also a look at how one can interact with their references. Substantive references that not only speak to one’s assertions but also allow them to work within the text. [Sources rich in quality]* will rule over general references of fact.Excusing the length of a project, working from a small host of excellent sources will [be preferable]* over a litany of articles, books, journals, and webpages. Ultimately the sources make or break the paper.

*Edited September 22, 2016


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