Ethnography in Education Research: Why?

This is an advanced research seminar reviewing theoretical developments in culture theory particularly as it takes seriously "education" as the fundamental human process that transforms experience into the 'arbitrary' patterns generally known as "culture"--as well as an institutionalized process in (post?-) modern polities.

My overall goal continues is to push further ideas about education as the motor of cultural production. This fall 2012, I will take a detour to develop new statements in defense of ethnography as a tool to understand life in our worlds as it is actually lived in its localities (families, neighborhoods, institutions, etc.). During my first years at Teachers College, in the 1970s, it seemed easy and settled: ethnography was a better tool than the experimental designs that had dominated research in earlier decades (probably since Thorndike).  By the beginning of the first 21st century, the situation was reversed and it is almost impossible to fund research that is not "evidence-based"--a euphemism for a radical narrowing of what is to count as evidence and what might be the means to reach politically relevant findings.

We need to go back to our roots, rediscover why Boas, Malinowski, etc., insisted on strongly localized ethnographic work as the only tool to make general statements about humanity.  They dare say that the more particular and unique the research site, the more generalizable the findings.  This was the hayday of what (I think) Margaret Mead called the "anthropological veto." 

Professor Lesley Bartlett will join me during six weeks of the semester to explore these questions in the context of what many, or at least a few, have seen as a way to renew the justification for ethnography not mostly to learn about the "other" (as the first anthropologists were supposed to do) but to learn about "us" (as most anthropologists now do).  This is way that goes through Garfinkel's work, particulary as stated in his most recent book (2002), and the great expansion of this work in Latour's own work.  In other words:

Boas's revenge: through Garfinkel and Latour for a new apology for radical ethnography

Six sessions are specifically dedicated to this theme (most probably from October 1st to November 5th). The first sessions will focus on a general discussion of the theoretical underpinnings to a view of education as cultural production, and an introduction of student research, either in its initial, pre-proposal, stages, or in its later stages (reports from the field and in the various stages of analysis and dissertation writing).  The last weeks will be given to such presentations.

This seminar stands on its own but students would be well served by reading those authors who are not in the schedule this semester but which were discussed in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007.  One might also look at last year's general introduction to the seminar.

While the class gestalt will be strongly anthropological, doctoral students in linguistics, sociology, history, political science, philosophy, communication, pedagogy, etc., may also be interested. There are no specific pre-requisites. It will help if students have taken (or are familiar with the authors and topics addressed in) either of my courses Communication and Culture or Ethnography of Education. I will also expect students to have some relatively well-formed research interest about which they want to think theoretically in terms of education and culture. I will easily give permission to register to students who have taken these courses, or who have at least one year of graduate anthropology. To the others I will ask questions such as:

More information about this course is available by moving your mouse on the "Course Link" tab on the left of your screen.