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Ethnographic Exercise – Ethnicity in Your Neighborhood

March 20, 2018 0 Comment

Ethnicity is sometimes thought of as an extension of kinship… in the same way we are related to our extended families, we are “related” to others who share an ethnic identity. Kinship is based in both consanguineal (blood) and affinial (marriage) ties, but anthropologists see ethnicity as part of a cultural construct rather than as something based completely on nature or biology. It’s part of our learned experience of who we are. 

Because ethnic identitiy is largely the result of learned behaviors, it can and does change. It’s something that can be manipulated to create economic opportunities. It can be produced, packaged, and sold in a global marketplace. We eat ethnic food, we listen to ethnic music, we wear clothing and decorate our spaces with ethnic style elements. Think about all of the ethnic markers you encounter on a daily basis. 

For this exercise, I’m going to ask you to do some participant observation of ethnicity in your daily life by going to a restaurant or other business that you identify with a specific ethnicity. Ideally, it should be someplace that you haven’t been to before; I’d like to to look at it with “fresh” eyes.

When you arrive, notice the physical space, the decorations, and anything else that indicates the ethnic identity. Does the building have a distinctive appearance? Is there music playing? If this is a restaurant, what about table settings? What foods are on the menu that mark this restaurant as “ethnic”? Is the food served in a distinctive way (specific dishes or utensils)? Are the ingredients different than you’d expect in other types of ethnic food? Do you think the experience would be the same if the food were served in a setting that didn’t reflect the ethnic identity?

If this is another type of business rather than a restaurant, what is it that makes this an “ethnic” business? Who works there? Do they indicate ethnicity in some way (clothing or jewelry)? 

Note that the point of these questions isn’t for you to answer them per se, they’re simply to get you thinking about what makes something “ethnic”.  I’m looking for an understanding of ethnicity and how it’s marketed and sold in a commercial setting.

Write up your observations in a narrative (essay) form. The narrative should be around 750 words or so, and should be double-spaced, in size 12 font, left justified, and carefully proofread for spelling, grammar, and other errors. It should be “Saved as” or “Exported As” a PDF document. Submit it to the assignment inbox on Canvas. Do NOT email it directly to me. I can’t grade it unless it’s in Canvas. Check the originality report after you’ve submitted it. In an assignment of this sort, your “similarity index” should be under 10%. 

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