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One-day workshop organized in conjunction with Teaching Anthropology, a journal of
the Royal Anthropological Institute.


16th April 2012

Magdalen College, High Street, Oxford OX1 4AU

Keynote speakers:
Professor Tim Ingold (University of Aberdeen)
Professor Carole McGranahan (University of Colorado Boulder)
Professor Kim Fortun (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Confirmed speakers:
Dr David Shankland (Director, Royal Anthropological Institute)
Professor David Gellner (Head of Department, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford)

Workshop organizer:
Ivan Costantino (University of Oxford)

‘Always start with the ethnography!’ is the admonition many a novice to the discipline of anthropology will receive when asked to write their first essay. Yet how does one go about it? What makes meaningful ‘data’ in an ethnography? How do students learn to use ethnographic examples? How do we experience teaching and learning anthropology through reading, analyzing and citing ethnographies?

The use of ethnographic examples as a pedagogical tool in anthropology has had a dynamic trajectory across time and space. In the US, Marcus (2009) reports how, since the 1980s, the reading of experimental ethnographic pieces has somewhat taken priority over that of ‘exemplary’ ethnographic classics. In the UK, Mascarenhas-Keyes and Wright (1995) have found two main styles of teaching and learning anthropology—one focused on acquiring ‘substantive knowledge’ and the other on ‘ethnographic imagination’—and these imply different uses of ethnographic examples for different purposes. Whether on paper or in digital format, in the form of monographs, articles, or brief mentions in textbooks, ethnographic examples have remained the signature pedagogy of anthropology and the craft of selecting, analyzing, circulating, and communicating them is at the very heart of the discipline. The anthropological craft is centred on working through fieldwork material to ‘figure out what could be “data”’ (Fortun 2009) or ‘what counts as evidence’ (Luhrmann 2010).

In the process of learning how to decipher ethnographic examples anthropologically, a number of challenges arise. These include discerning ‘data’, figuring out how to ‘link examples with theory’, how to ‘find one’s own voice’ in writing or re-telling examples, or how to articulate examples for funding agencies or for the public. A further challenge is affirming ethnography as a distinctive and valuable insight into the human condition while ethnographic examples may be about places, things and people far removed from the immediate experience of students. Thus, when examples are heard or read rather than experienced in person, do they require special cultivation of imagination, openness and empathy? Some anthropologists have indeed argued for more participatory and experiential approaches to the teaching and learning of anthropology.

This one-day workshop will explore the joys and the challenges for anthropology teachers and students in their use of ethnographic examples. The workshop will also investigate diverse ways of teaching anthropology, including through fieldwork, museums, ‘study tours’ (Russell 2004), and generally leaving the classroom (Ingold 2004). Contributions are invited to explore how different instructors (A-level teachers, graduate teaching assistants, university lecturers and professors) select and use examples in their teaching and how they assess their students’ understanding and use of ethnography. Students are invited to contribute with a reflexive understanding of how they learning to use ethnographic evidence.

Thematic questions to be addressed may include the following:

  • What counts as an ethnographic example?
  • Is anthropology primarily defined by ethnographic practice and writing? How do teaching and learning transform anthropology through the production, selection, communication and circulation of ethnographic examples?
  • What skills could support students to make use of ethnographic examples anthropologically?
  • What are the values and limitations of the ethnographic monograph as an anthropological teaching resource?
  • Do written, oral and experience-based examples in teaching and learning lead to different types of anthropological knowledge? What would be the impact?
  • How can we best use material culture as well as visual and digital ethnographies to provide examples in teaching?
  • How could using ethnographic examples support students in avoiding generalizations and articulating non-essentialist arguments?
  • How can students do justice to the depth of ethnography in written assignments and exam situations?
  • How can ethnographic data be valued whilst debating the ethnographer’s positionality?
  • Do examples from students’ personal experiences have ethnographic value and should they be encouraged to use them?
  • How do anthropologists use our own fieldwork experiences as examples in the classroom?

Abstracts and attendance fees:

Please send a title plus an abstract (no longer than 400 words) and author information to ivan.costantino@anthro.ox.ac.uk by Wednesday 15th February 2012. Selected papers will be included in a special issue of the journal Teaching Anthropology.

We are keeping the cost of attendance low at £18 for full-time students and RAI Fellows and £28 for everyone else to help us cover lunch, refreshments and an afternoon reception. To reserve a place and arrange payment, please email: ivan.costantino@anthro.ox.ac.uk

A limited number of bursaries are available from the ASA for members to help with travel to teaching and learning events. To apply please contact Ian Fairweather on teaching_learning@theasa.org