Ethnography of the University / Ethnography of the University: Focus on Diversity 2021 / Undergraduate Ethnography

The Arts of Noticing, By Ashna Shah (Ethnography of the University 2021: Focus on Diversity)

This blog post was part of the coursework for the Ethnographic Practicum course, “Ethnography of the University 2021: Focus on Diversity.” It was originally posted in the category “Concepts and Methods.”

After a relatively busy morning, I had finally rung up my childhood friend, Dee, from back home and was listening to her animatedly describe the happenings of her day. As we were talking I got a call from my telephone service provider and without thinking much of it I answered it while still on call with Dee. As I was talking on the phone I could see Dee cracking a smile and I was perplexed because I did say anything humorous. As I finished up the call Dee immediately recited the last few phrases I had said on the call, but in a rather emphasised accent. I was confused as to what or rather who she was mocking. “So, you’ve become Canadian huh?” she mocked further and I grew to be more embarrassed and defended myself as much as I could. Until that moment I had not realised that I had an accent. This was bizarre. How was I transforming something so normal about me without realising it? Also, why was I doing so? Can I be acted upon in some way without being fully aware of it? As I thought more about this seemingly insignificant incident all these questions began surrounding me.

This is the opening of my paper where I investigate how inclusion and diversity interact with the international student experience.

 In my experience of reading ethnographies, they usually start with a captivating vignette which serves as the inspiration for all that is to follow in that study. I was always amazed by how scholars were able to make note of these events in their life, and considered how lucky they were to experience this thought-altering event. So, when it came to me writing an ethnographic paper of my own I had a mini-crisis. I pondered to myself “How am I going to come across an experience which is going to be the one event that sparks my entire inquiry?”

Turns out, that it is a lot more challenging than I was anticipating! In thinking about the theme of diversity, I went about looking for all the ways diversity was playing out in my daily life. As I thought about scenarios with the lens of diversity I felt like I was getting closer and closer to the moment that would inspire me enough to spend the next few months working on it.

This is when ‘the arts of noticing’ became relevant. Being attuned to subtle occurrences that deviate from the norm can help set the direction for your research and the paper you are writing. I was able to ponder the subtle meanings in a seemingly ordinary interaction with my friend and turn them into a useful insight into diversity. Realising that my accent had transformed without me consciously changing it made me question how inclusion and diversity were interacting with my reality and orientation as an international student. The ability to notice small everyday happenings and make them unfamiliar is a great way to begin an investigation into a topic. It can allow you to explore a perspective that could easily miss.

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