How can I get started writing an ethnographic field study paper?

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When writing a paper of any sort, it's best to focus on a subject that interests you, but I would argue it is even more important when writing an ethnography. Ask yourself: what am I interested in? Throughout history, ethnography was largely limited to comparing, contrasting, and describing the unique histories and life-ways of distinct ethnic groups. With shifting attitudes and frameworks in Anthropology, you could really write an ethnography-style paper on any portion of a society in the world. Throughout my own work in anthropology, I have encountered students who focused on sports culture or gender roles in a specific context. Even if your professor hasn't introduced you to any ethnic or cultural material that interests you, perhaps you could write on a group that is not necessarily defined by ethnicity. Please check with your professor as to whether this would be permissible. 

Don't feel pressured to know which one, single group you want to write about straight off the bat! Try making a short list of up to five groups you might be interested in studying. Consider the following to brainstorm some possibilities:

  • What do you already know about the group?
  • What do you want to know about this group?
  • How do you relate to this group?
  • Why are you interested in this group?

I would wager that whichever possible group gets you writing the most in trying to answer these questions would be the one you should choose for your assignment. However, I also recommend that you do some very basic research on your possible choices. This is why it's important to keep your list of possibilities small; you do not want to overwhelm yourself in this basic research. 

Most works of ethnography include information about worldviews, religions, or belief systems, as well as subsistence practices, gender roles, history, language, and art. If you do not choose a distinct ethnic group, you may not need to include some of this information. If you choose a group considered to be a sub-set or portion of society, try to include some particular information about what makes them distinctive. For example, if you were to write about English football hooligans as a distinct group, it would probably not be necessary to talk about their religious views. On the other hand, it would be very important to discuss the roles of football, class, music, and gender in their lives. 

If you have the opportunity to observe your chosen group in-person, try to keep this portion of your project simple. Just sit back, watch, and take notes as appropriate. Try to digest the experience through careful observation and draw connections later. If you try too hard to "look for" something during your observation period, you might miss other information.

I will include some links below that I hope you will find useful in your research. Several of these databases include primary source material from fieldwork around the globe. 

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