Essay 2 Assignment: Ethnographic Analysis
Using a Text as a Lens
Objective: In this essay, you will perform an ethnographic analysis. To do so, you will adopt the methodology of a text from our syllabus as a lens through which to analyze your subject. This is a very common practice in the social sciences: many exam questions and essay prompts ask you to consider the ideas or method of one scholar or text and use them as tools to help you analyze another text or object. You might imagine this ?lens? as a pair of glasses that you put on to look at a particular object: it impacts the way that you understand a subject or text in a way that might be quite different than if you used a different lens. The lens most often provides either an interpretive context or an analytical/methodological approach for your paper.
Your essay should suggest some relationship between the two texts (your lens and your subject) and discuss what the implications of that relationship are, either on the lens or the text. That said, the bulk of the paper should be devoted to your ethnographic text/object. The lens functions in the paper merely as an introductory or structural framing device that helps the audience understand your approach to your subject. However, the work you do in the paper might lead to a reinterpretation or new understanding of the lens, and it can be productive to discuss those discoveries and their implications in your conclusion.
Select one of the following prompts and write an ethnographic analysis:
1. In ?Hunger as Ideology,? Susan Bordo analyzes the gender dualities present in early 1990s advertisements. In the essay?s final section, she reports, ?I encourage my students to bring in examples that appear to violate traditional gender-dualities and the ideological messages contained in them. Frequently, my students view our examination of these ?subversive? representations as an investigation and determination of whether or not ?progress? has been made . . . but ?progress? is not an adequate description of the cultural status of the counter-examples they bring me. Rather, they almost always display a complicated and bewitching tangle of new possibilities and old patterns of representation? (166-67).
Using her essay as a methodological model, analyze a set of ads to argue whether or not they stabilize, destabilize, or present a bewitching mix of old and new cultural or social ideologies. Locate at least TWO advertisements and perform an analysis of their representation of contemporary America. Do your ads seem to destabilize traditional roles or reinforce a particular duality (e.g. gender, racial, cultural, etc.)? Explain.
(I would advise you to select ads that portray the same product ? i.e. two deodorant ads ? or two different products made by the same brand.)
2. Using ?Deep Play? as your model, write an essay in which you perform an ethnographic analysis of a culture or subculture. Your thesis should argue how a particular ritual, event, central belief or practice, etc. of that culture is, as Geertz says of the Balinese cockfight, ?a powerful rendering of life as [they] most deeply do not want it . . . set in the context of a sample of it as they do in fact have it? (328). Read your selected culture as a text, using both the methods of analysis we have practiced in this course as well as the specific reading strategies Geertz uses in his analysis. Consider how Geertz understands his position in relation to the Balinese culture, as well as the meta-commentary on his own methods and procedures that he provides on p. 329. In particular, consider how he sums up his reading of the cockfight: its ?function, if you want to call it that, is interpretive: it is a Balinese reading of Balinese experience; a story they tell themselves about themselves? (329).
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