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FOLK 543 640 Literature of Ethnography

J. Theophano/K. Rabberman
Seminar: Monday 6:00-8:40 PM

Logan Hall 392
Contact: jtheopha@sas.upenn.edu
rabberman@sas.upenn.edu

Ethnographic research has brought anthropologists and folklorists, sociologists and oral historians face to face with some compelling challenges as they attempt to describe specific social and cultural groups to a variety of audiences: insiders and outsiders, academics and lay audiences. Attempting to be both scientific and humanistic, ethnography has been accused of being neither. How can ethnographers best understand their impact on the groups they study, and the impact of their research on their own identity? How can ethnographers balance their personal agendas (related for example to political and ideological goals, particularly re: feminism and anti-imperialism) with an academic quest to produce "scientific," well-supported research? And how have ethnographers experimented with style and genre to break the chains of traditional ethnographic writing and better represent their experiences in the field? In this course we will investigate these themes as we explore descriptions of the Other and the Self that ethnographic writers have inscribed in their accounts and the transformations of the genre as it has been scrutinized by its practitioners and critics. Medieval travel writers, colonial and post-colonial explorers, anthropologists, novelists, and other twenty-first century writers will be the subjects of our inquiry as we review the intellectual traditions and the personal experiences of the authors of these narratives. We will examine the transformations in ethnographic writing by researchers from other disciplines such as folklore and sociology and the questions raised by feminist and post-modern scholars who have contested its veracity and integrity. As a class, we will explore a variety of ethnographic texts describing societies far-ranging in place and time, including Malinowski's descriptions of himself observing the Trobriand islanders, an experimental anthropology of concepts of home among West Austrailian aborigines, Margery Wolf's layered accounts of a woman's possible case of possession in Taiwan, an examination of cross-cultural conflicts in concepts of health care between the Hmong and a US hospital, an anthropologist's and a novelist's understanding of their experiences in the field in Africa, novelists' use of fiction to explore themes central to ethnography in the late 20th century, and an ethnographic study of a Voodoo priestess in New York. Students will be encouraged to explore issues of interest to them in a short and a longer paper.

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