Ethnography is perhaps the most important and most widely used qualitative mode of inquiry into social and cultural conditions, not only in the academic social sciences, but also increasingly in organizations and activities outside the university as well, from PARC to the Federal Reserve. There is no single definition of ethnography or uniform practice of ethnographic method, nor should there be: ethnographic practice responds and adapts to field research situations. As Marilyn Strathern has written, ethnography, through participant-observation, interviewing, and other qualitative techniques, is a "deliberate attempt to generate more data than the researcher is aware of at the time of collection," and is thus eminently suited to the study of unpredictable outcomes, complex emerging social formations, and technological and market change. There is no doubt that ethnography is undergoing changes in the conditions of its production, and in the forms and techniques by which it is reported to different readerships and constituencies for it.
Established in 2006, the Center for Ethnography has worked to develop at the University of California, Irvine, series of sustained and diverse theoretical and methodological conversations across disciplines, academic and applied, both to probe the state of ethnographic practice and to influence the current changes in how ethnography is conducted, reported, received, and taught. The center supports innovative collaborative ethnographic research as well as experiments on the theoretical and methodological refunctioning of ethnography amid contemporary cultural, social and technological transformations. One goal of the center is to foster methodological innovation in ethnography across the campus. More broadly, however, its goal is to situate the University of California, Irvine at the center of such innovations internationally.
In April, the Center for Ethnography is hosting three events that explore experimental urban fieldwork as a series on the "City as Laboratory." The first event on April 9 will be a panel of presentations about experiments in recent dissertation fieldwork (see following CFP), followed by a field experiment on April 15 at CicLAvia in downtown Los Angeles, and a discussion about the experiment on campus on April 23. Learn more.