This class will introduce students to the practice of ethnographic field work, or participant observation research. Students will read works on the practice of ethnography and actual ethnographic studies to acquire exposure to a variety of theoretical approaches, empirical topics, and debates. Students will also conduct several weeks of ethnographic research, produce field notes, and write a short final paper based on their research. Each week we will discuss the field notes, which students will have exchanged before each session. The class should appeal to students interested in both the social sciences and the humanities, in part because it concerns the study of and reflection upon the human condition in live situations, and in part because the main theoretical approaches to the practice are rooted in deeper philosophical traditions. So, while becoming familiar with ethnographic theory students will be introduced to philosophical strains such as semiotics, existentialism, pragmatism, and phenomenology.
This course fulfills the Social Science requirement
Omar M. McRoberts is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and The College. McRoberts' scholarly and teaching interests include the sociology of religion, urban sociology, urban poverty, race, and collective action. His first book, Streets of Glory: Church and Community in a Black Urban Neighborhood is based on an ethnographic study of religious life in Four Corners: a poor, predominantly black neighborhood in Boston containing twenty-nine congregations. It explains the high concentration, wide variety, and ambiguous social impact of religious activity in the neighborhood. It won the 2005 Distinguished Book Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. McRoberts currently is conducting a study of black religious responses to, and influences on, social welfare policy since the New Deal, culminating with George W. Bush's Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives. He is also initiating an ethnographic project on cultures of death and dying among black congregations in low-income urban contexts.