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Workshop by John Dorst

Stitching Up the Shallow Body: Metaphor, Theory, and the Poetics of Ethnography

April 15, 1:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Kelly Writer's House

In this workshop we will explore the interplay in ethnography between writerly practices, especially the deployment of metaphorical or other poetic elements, and the exposition of theoretical perspectives. This might mean, in part, discussing practical matters of ethnographic writing: rhetorical strategies, structure, how much (or whether) to make theoretical issues explicit in an ethnographic text, etc. But there are also more interesting questions to be asked about how the ethnographic subject itself offers possibilities for metaphorical exposition of theory. This is a version of the familiar injunction to let your material generate your theory. In this workshop we will be trying to unpack such notions.

Prior to discussion, I will offer an example from my current work on taxidermy, in which the metaphor of the "shallow body," a notion arising from ethnographic observation, helps me think through relevant theoretical issues: how one selects and presents the core "epiphanies" (or interpretive moments) of an account, the linked processes of concealment and display in ethnographic work, and the moral and ethical dilemmas of working on personally uncomfortable subjects, among other things.

Also, before the workshop I will provide the participants with some relevant excerpts from ethnographic texts as examples for discussion. Finally, and most important, I hope participants will bring along (and send me in advance, if possible) some of their own ethnographic writing for the group to consider in the terms described here.

Participants are invited to bring along writing to share with the group. This writing could be anything, but most relevant to the workshop theme would be pieces in which you are building "ideas" (theoretical concepts, metaphorical amplifications, reflexive contemplations, framing elements, etc.) into your ethnography. Of course ideas are built into every syllable of our writing, but this workshop will focus on those places in our writing where this becomes more explicit and intentional.


Excerpt from Pig Earth, by John Berger
Excerpt from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee


Since completion of his graduate training in folklore/folklife, first at U.C. Berkeley (M.A. 1977) and
then at the University of Pennsylvania (PhD 1983), John Dorst has been on the English Department and American Studies faculties at the University of Wyoming. His current research is concerned with the production and vernacular display of animal artifacts (e.g. animal trophies and other taxidermy), and with theoretical issues raised in doing ethnographic work on this topic. This research grows partly out of a museum exhibition, Framing the Wild: Animals on Display, that he curated in 2002/03 for the University Art Museum and the Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, WY. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002 in support of this research and is now working on a book. His books and exhibitions include Looking West, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999; The Written Suburb: An American Site, An Ethnographic Dilemma. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989; and the museum exhibition Framing The Wild: Animals On Display, at the University of Wyoming Art Museum and the National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson Hole, WY, (2002/03), for which he was the curator and catalog author.

Registration Information

To register, send an e-mail to Veronica Aplenc vaplenc@sas.upenn.edu with your name, departmental affiliation, status in graduate program (e.g. in coursework; ABD and before research; in fieldwork; writing up), project title, and brief project description (short paragraph). If you wish to sign up for more than one workshop, please rank the workshops in order of your preference, so that we may accommodate as many registrants as possible with their first choices.

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