Community Ethnography Assignment by Owen Cantrell
Project #4: Community Ethnography
Assignment: For this assignment, students will work individually to write an ethnographic essay
about a culture or group and how they’re dealing with the 2020 COVID-19 epidemic. The goal for
this assignment is to make “you think about ethics (how you’re presenting information, how that
information might affect people if made public, being as accurate as you can) and knowledge (what
it is you really know at the end of the project and how you present that knowledge without sounding
more confident than you should)” (Kahn 175).
The final ethnographic essay should be roughly 2-3 pages in length and include, as addendums: 1)
pre-writing & journaling; and 2) field notes & interview guides. You may include any additional
materials with the essay that you believe help your audience to understand your ethnographic
Audience: The audience for this essay should be dual. First, you should consider an audience that
has no familiarity with the culture or group you’re describing. For this audience, the information you
provide about this group is the extent of their knowledge. Because of this, you should be certain you
are representing your cultural group ethically and responsibly. Second, you should also consider the
group you’re studying as an audience. While you may or may not share your essay with your group—
depending on your consent agreement—I’d suggest considering how they may or may not react to
your essay. Are they represented fairly? Ethically? Responsibly? It may even be useful to include
members of your group as part of the revising process for the essay.
Planning: For this project, you should have four planning stages. First, you should begin with
prewriting about your chosen cultural group. Kahn suggests that prewriting should include:
“reflections on what you know about the culture you’ll study, what you think you know, your biases
and predispositions towards its members, the questions you’re interested in trying to answer” (177).
This prewriting should be done prior to your engagement with your chosen cultural group.
Second, you should engage with your group and begin the process of gaining their consent and
trust. While I am not requiring written consent forms for this project, it is important that you
negotiate terms with your chosen group. For example, consider the extent to which your group
could benefit from your study. What, if anything, will they get out of the study? How will you avoid
either an imperial or colonial engagement with the group?
Third, you should begin developing field notes, a journal, and an interview guide regarding your
group. In your field notes, these should simply be your observations about your selected group. In
journaling, you should reflect on those observations. Try to draw conclusions or connections in your
journaling, both about your group as well as your own engagement with the group. For the interview
guide—especially if you perform interviews of group members separate from observation—you
should determine a clear method of questioning that adhere to the standards discussed in
Addendum #3: Interview Guide.
Finally, after you have done pre-writing, consent, field notes, journaling, and an interview guide, you
should begin drafting your essay. The essay should have a clear argument (based on your
observations), as well as plentiful support based on your field notes, journaling, and interviews.
Depending on your consent arrangement with your group, you may want to share your essay with
the group for ethical feedback and clearance.
Grading: This project will be graded based on the following: 1) clear, well-supported ethnographic
essay supported by data gathered from field notes, journaling, and interviews; 2) awareness of
imperial and colonial critique within the essay and a clear attempt to consider these objections; 3)
inclusion of all documentation, including pre-writing, field notes, journaling, and interview guides.
This project is worth 15 points or 15% of your course grade.
Resources, Tips & Suggestions
• Given the time and place restraints on this assignment, consider a group you interact with on a
regular basis that you may want to study for your ethnographic essay. I am definitely not
expecting you to go anywhere for this project, so consider who you could get in contact with
via digital means.
• Use Whitman’s “To a Stranger” as inspiration: what are some groups or cultures that you may
pass by on a regular basis that you don’t consider what life may be like for them? What insight
could you gain from this understanding? How might these groups also gain from this mutual
• Try to set a timeline for completion of various components of the project. Since there is little
reading or activities outside of ones for this project, consider how you may want to develop
deadlines for completing the project.
Pre-writing—begin as soon as possible. I’d suggest having some initial thoughts and
reflections completed for Day #2 of this week.
Consent—try to gain consent for your cultural group by Day #1 of next week. This will
guarantee you have enough time to compile field notes, journaling, and create an interview
guide, if necessary.
Field Notes, Journaling & Interview Guide—Your timeline may vary depending how
quickly you complete your pre-writing and consent process. I’d suggest giving a few days to
complete this process before you write your essay. Much of your Field Notes, Journals, and
responses to your Interview Guide will make it into your essay.
Final Draft of Ethnographic Essay—due April 30th at 11:59pm to iCollege)
Addendum #1: Prewriting
For your Community Ethnography project, you should include prewriting to reflect on what Kahn
calls “what you know about the culture you’ll study, what you think you know, your biases and
predispositions towards its members, the questions you’re interested in trying to answer” (177).
Some of the following questions may be useful to guide your prewriting.
Some questions you may want to consider include:
• What are some pre-existing attitudes that may be helpful in completing this project? What are
some pre-existing attitudes that may get in the way?
• What attitudes do you think this project will challenge?
• What did you gain from this experience? What will the group you’re studying?
• How do you think this project will fit into your broader understanding of the group you’re
studying? The larger context of the COVID-19 pandemic?
• What are some broader social, cultural, and political issues that you believe this project will
bring up? How do these fit into your understanding of the group you’re studying?
Addendum #2: Field Notes & Journaling
For your Community Ethnography project, you should compose Field Notes as well as Journal
about those Field Notes.
Field Notes should be composed of your observational notes that you take while interacting with
your cultural group or shortly after interacting with them. They should be strictly observational and
minimize—ideally eliminate—any sense of judgement or interpretation about your observations.
Journaling should be reflective about your observations in your Field Notes. Much like Field Notes,
however, Journaling should avoid judgement or interpretation. You may have a hypothesis or ideas
about your observations, but try to not let them color—or potentially limit—how you are perceiving
your observations. Both Field Notes and Journaling should form the basis for your essay itself,
which is where you’ll judge and interpret what you’ve seen and how you connect those observations
into a clear, arguable thesis.
Addendum #3: Interview Guide
An Interview Guide can be useful to prepare you to interview members of your cultural group.
While interviews may not be a part of your project, they can be a useful tool to understanding how
your cultural group may understand themselves or their place within the broader culture into which
they are placed.
Sections of an Interview Guide:
• Introduction: Purpose of interview; ethical consideration (consent, permission to record,
confidentiality, voluntary participation, etc.)
• Warm-up and main question: Easy questions that introduces the topic; ice-breakers; make
participant comfortable. Then delve into the essential topics of the interview
• Closing questions: Opportunity for participants to provide summary responses
• Develop open-ended, not closed-ended questions
• Avoid leading questions
• Avoid jargon and judgmental questions
• Use conversational and colloquial language
• Develops short questions, no double-barreled questions
• Questions must be relevant to purpose or project
Creating an Interview Guide
When you develop your interview guide, keep in mind the major sections (Introduction, Warm-up
and Major Questions, Closing Questions) as well as best practices in designing good interview
• Participant (Who are you interviewing? How might your questions change or be developed
differently based on who you are interviewing)
• Audience (Who will read/view this interview? How should that shape how you write your
questions or focus them?)
• Final Product (What are you attempting to understand about your group? How will that
understanding impact your final product for this assignment?)