Ethnography of the University / Ethnography of the University: Focus on Time 2019 / Undergraduate Ethnography

ANT 473HF Ethnographic Practicum Syllabus (Ethnography of the University 2019: Focus on Time)

University of Toronto, Department of Anthropology ANT 473HF Ethnographic Practicum: The University 2019 Theme: Time
Instructor Prof. Tania Li, Mondays 10-1 pm

Participants in this class conduct an independent ethnographic inquiry, analyse data, write it up, present it, and publish it on the Ethnography Lab website as an original contribution to knowledge. The premise of the class is that the most effective way to learn how to do ethnographic research is by actually doing it, with guidance and plenty of opportunity for feedback. The format of the class is collaborative. Each year the class has a common theme. All students identify a research site related to the theme, usually a site within the University of Toronto, conduct primary ethnographic research at their chosen site, and bring issues of research design, ethics, theory and analysis to the weekly group session for collective brainstorming.

The teaching method is loosely based on that developed by Michael Burawoy at Berkeley. It requires students’ creativity, cooperation, initiative, organizational skills, flexibility, active participation, integrity, ethical conduct, some reading and lots of DOING: doing field research for at least four hours per week, writing field notes, and preparing for class presentations and discussions. Assignments and tasks are designed to maximize collaboration, insight, and learning.


Ten weekly blog posts, written in a format to share with class peers. Each post is 3-500 words, on a topic of your choice. Examples: summarize a reading and draw out what it contributes to our collective project; summarize field observations and discuss their implications; discuss ethical dilemmas and how you will resolve them; reflect on the strengths and limitations of our methods and how to improve them; others tba. The instructor will give private individual feedback on blogposts, so you can keep track of how you are doing. The blogs are also part of the learning process: you read, you write; you observe, you analyse; you discuss with your peers, you commit your reflections to paper… repeat. Some of the blog posts maybe integrated into the website or your final report. 40% Participation in class, by posting 5 of your blogs and commenting on others plus conference 20%

Individual and collective material for posting on public website 20% Final report (3-4000 words) 20%


Reading for the class is front-loaded, as we need to start off with a strong and imaginative conceptualization of the common topic, and how we can investigate it. After that, most of your time each week will spent doing research, and writing about it. Active field work will start as soon as we have human subjects/ethics permission. I will apply for permission for the class as whole.

1 Introduction to research theme, initial brainstorming, selection of common readings as a starting point for collective discussion

  1. 2  Theory, concepts, and research design
  2. 3  Report on initial scoping exercise; refining research strategy.
  3. 4  Into the field

Burowoy: “Participant observers confront two hurdles: getting in and getting out. Entering the field site can be the most aggravating, unnerving, humiliating part of the field research. It often raises all sorts of ethical dilemmas. Yet to the extent it is emotionally draining and thwart with resistance (internal and external) so it is all the more significant. Your attempts to “enter” can provoke a crisis situation not only for yourself but for those you want to study and thereby reveal much of what is normally hidden or taken for granted. Barriers to entry display the “values,” assumptions,” and above all “interests” of those you are about to study — the theories they hold about the external world from where you come. … The more “blunders” you make, the more embarrassed (humiliated) you will be but the more you will learn. In short, “getting in” provides the most important materials you will collect, although their meaning will become apparent only later in the field research. It is imperative you record all your experiences around entry — all the resistance and all the anxiety. this is not the pre-play before the real act.”

5 Documents, observations, field notes.
Burowoy: “
There is no point in spending time in the field without writing up your field notes, and immediately after leaving the field. Loss of detail, mistakes, distorted reconstructions increase exponentially as time elapses from the original experience. ..In the beginning field notes should offer as much detail as possible. One should write down everything one can remember. (Making notes during the field to jolt the memory afterwards is very useful. If it’s awkward to be seen writing then the lavatory is a good secret (re)treat.) The first set of field notes should describe the setting, the characters you interact with or observe and what they are up to. It is important you do this in the beginning when everything is novel since soon you will take so much for granted that it will be difficult to offer a vivid description. At all times specific, concrete, detailed descriptions are crucial. What appears irrelevant in the beginning may turn out to be central in the end. The meaning of each field sortie is only unravelled in subsequent sorties. As the study progresses so questions emerge that will push you toward collecting certain types of data or perhaps suggest a change of field site. Field research is a process of discovery and reconstruction.”

  1. 6  Fieldwork practices and dilemmas
  2. 7  Moving towards analysis.

From Burowoy: “In the seminar you move from participant to academic. It is here that participant observers are forced to respond to the interests and concerns of other sociologists, that is, forced to develop the “scientific” dimension of their analysis. A second advantage of working intensively in a seminar lies in the diversity of problems that are encountered. In effect we will be learning about the technique of participant observation not just through our own personal experiences but through the experiences of others too.”

Useful sources on fieldwork dilemmas and how to position yourself in relation to your research field: Bourdieu, Pierre. 2003. Participant Objectivation. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 9:281-294. Mosse, David. 2006. Anti-social Anthropology? Objectivity, Objection and the Ethnography of Public Policy and

Professonal Communities. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 12 (4):935-56.
8, 9 From now on, we will have a routine of research, writing, discussion, and planning. Any new reading will relate

directly to analytical puzzles we need to solve.

10, 11 Synthesis of findings, common themes across projects; preparing and uploading material for the website.

12 Research conference presentations at time TBA; write up of presentations/final report is due on the same day. You may feel that you have only just begun their research, and are not ready to present it or write it up. This is normal! You can only do what you can do in 12 weeks, but definitely, you will learn a lot about how to conduct ethnographic research, and be ready for future explorations…

Academic Integrity:

Academic integrity is fundamental to learning and scholarship at the University of Toronto. Participating honestly, respectfully, responsibly, and fairly in this academic community ensures that the U of T degree that you earn will be valued as a true indication of your individual academic achievement, and will continue to receive the respect and recognition it deserves. Familiarize yourself with the University of Toronto’s Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters

It is the rule book for academic behaviour at the U of T, and you are expected to know the rules. Potential offences include, but are not limited to:
In papers and assignments:

  • Using someone else’s ideas or words without appropriate acknowledgement.
  • Copying material word-for-word from a source (including lecture and study group notes) and not placing the words within quotation marks.
  • Submitting your own work in more than one course without the permission of the instructor.
  • Making up sources or facts.
  • Including references to sources that you did not use.
  • Obtaining or providing unauthorized assistance on any assignment including:

o working in groups on assignments that are supposed to be individual work;

o having someone rewrite or add material to your work while “editing”.
• Lending your work to a classmate who submits it as his/her own without your permission.

On tests and exams:

  • Using or possessing any unauthorized aid, including a cell phone.
  • Looking at someone else’s answers
  • Letting someone else look at your answers.
  • Misrepresenting your identity.
  • Submitting an altered test for re-grading. Misrepresentation:
    • Falsifying or altering any documentation required by the University, including doctor’s notes.
    • Falsifying institutional documents or grades.
      The University of Toronto treats cases of academic misconduct very seriously. All suspected cases of academic dishonesty will be investigated following the procedures outlined in the Code. The consequences for academic misconduct can be severe, including a failure in the course and a notation on your transcript. If you have any questions about what is or is not permitted in this course, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you have questions about appropriate research and citation methods, seek out additional information from me, or from other available campus resources like the .If you are experiencing personal challenges that are having an impact on your academic work, please speak to me or seek the advice of your college registrar. Citation format: We use the Chicago format style. The full explanation is here: ion.html The course biblio uses this style – follow the formats exactly (ie re capitals, italics, punctuation etc.). Use in- text citations rather than footnotes, following this format (Li 2015:32). Quoted and paraphrased material must have page numbers. Reserve footnotes for clarifications that would interrupt the flow of the text.

2019 Ethnographic Practicum Theme: Time

How do different temporalities shape the life of the university? How do faculty, staff and students make time, spend time, and value time, past, present and future? Who tries to manage time, guiding people towards an optimal balance of study, exercise, leisure, and social interaction? How do near-time management techniques fit with other temporalities e.g social media with its FOMO pressures, instrumental time (time is money), or the future-orientation that frames students’ time at university as merely a step towards employment, or the variable duration of university employment? Students in career workshops are taught to instrumentalize their friendships, as friends become nodes in future business networks. Students facing long commutes, working to support their studies, stressed about debt or poor grades, or worrying over how to optimize course selection, international experience, and CV building, say they have no time to delve deeply into their studies. Ethnographic research sites for this project may include offices, classrooms, locker rooms, dorms, clubs, unions, cafeterias, and social media platforms.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a topic or site in mind at the outset. Bring your half-baked ideas to the first class, and we’ll brainstorm collectively to turn them into something interesting, researchable, and well worth 12 weeks of your time. Check out the Ethnography Lab website to see student work and be inspired!

Preliminary reading list:
On time in the university:
(Read 2009; Grant 2018; Nielsen and Sarauw 2018)
On time:
(Rosa 2013 [2005]) (Preface and intro); (Duclos 2017); (Caduff 2017);(Moran 2015)

Caduff, Carlo. 2017. SPEED CRASH COURSE. Cultural Anthropology 32 (1):12-20.
Duclos, Vincent. 2017. INHABITING MEDIA: An Anthropology of Life in Digital Speed. Cultural Anthropology 32 (1):21-27. Grant, Barbara M. 2018. On Delivering the Consumer-Citizen. In Death Of The Public University? Uncertain Futures for

Higher Education in the Knowledge Economy, edited by S. Wright and C. Shore. New York: Berghan.
Moran, Chuk. 2015. Time as a social practice. Time & Society 24 (3):283-303.
Nielsen, Grit B, and Laura L Sarauw. 2018. Tuning Up and Tuning In. In Death Of The Public University? Uncertain Futures

for Higher Education in the Knowledge Economy, edited by S. Wright and C. Shore. New York: Berghan. Read, Jason. 2009. University Experience: Neoliberalism Against the Commons. In Toward a Global Autonomous

University: The Edu-factory Collective. New York: Autonomedia.

%20Toward%20a%20Global%20Autonomous%20University%20- %20Cognitive%20Labor,%20The%20Production%20of%20Knowledge,%20and%20Exodus%20from%20the%20Ed ucation%20Factory.pdf

Rosa, Hartmut. 2013 [2005]. Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity. Translated by J. Trejo-Mathys. New York: Columbia University Press.

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