After the long work of spending a semester, trimester, or quarter conducting ethnographic research, building your essay, making meaningful connections, using effective supporting detail from primary and secondary source material, and writing evocative prose, two words can call to you –“The End.” The desire to finish, to be done, to turn in the final paper by just repeating what you said you were going to write about can be strong. Nevertheless, the conclusion to your essay is much more than an easy finish to the task.
When you have finished developing the first three sections of your essay, be prepared to articulate what it all means to you and what it all might mean for your readers. That is, once you have decided, “I am going to write about X,” you need to begin to think about why you want to write about X. What is the point? Why would anyone want to know this? How can you use this observation to say something important, or powerful about our behaviors or patterns? How can we use our larger observations to suggest ways in which we might improve human existence?
OK, the notion of “improving human existence” may be a bit extreme, but just as in the final paragraphs of the Research Proposal and the Resource Review, your final rhetorical work needs to address the larger “So What?” question. As you conclude your work, you might want to think about a two-pronged structure — consider the local/personal implications and consider the global/collective implications. In essence, you will return to the beginning of your essay, the beginning of your own process, and talk a bit about what your project has meant to you, has done for you with respect to shifting your mindset. From this personal perspective you then move to consider how a global perspective might be affected by what you have found. Can your findings further explain or provide texture for understanding? Do they suggest a location of hope regarding some social issue?
These conclusions need not be earth-shattering in the sense that you propose the solution to some specific problem. Rather, ethnographic writing, in illustrating complexity, often has the effect of encouraging tolerance or increasing understanding of others, of other situations, of alternate “partial truths.” If you have a handle on how your “partial truths” have shifted and been rewritten over the course of the semester, you are on your way to suggesting ways that we can collectively consider the partiality of global, universal Truth. Your conclusion serves to reinforce the “what matters” of your writing.