1b- Identifying with Ethnographic Writing

Actu­al­ly, the truth is that regard­less of your past suc­cess, every stu­dent who engages with their ethno­graph­ic project in an earnest, enthu­si­as­tic and eth­i­cal way will expe­ri­ence the excite­ment of orig­i­nal research.  Even more, the writ­ing you’ll do, that the process you’ll engage in won’t be whol­ly unfa­mil­iar to you.  Despite the claims that this kind of work will be “new” to you, it is most like­ly that you already have some expe­ri­ence with ethno­graph­ic writ­ing.  If you’ve ever been asked to describe a scene, to write using dia­logue, to write about your past, to write about your feel­ings, to write to sum­ma­rize, to inform, or sug­gest, or per­suade, you already have many of the skills you can draw on in order to write for this essay.  If you use email, IM, par­tic­i­pate on Face­book, watch YouTube, or Twit­ter, you have been gath­er­ing and expe­ri­enc­ing with cer­tain rhetor­i­cal strate­gies of the ver­nac­u­lar in online set­tings.  If you have ever spent any time in a pub­lic space—a beach, the mall, a bar—“people-watching,” you’ve already got an idea of what it means to make obser­va­tions that could be trans­lat­ed on paper.  This course will not be about teach­ing you about writ­ing and research­ing from a point of not know­ing any­thing.  Rather, you will be strate­gi­cal­ly call­ing upon skills you may already have in con­junc­tion with those you will learn in order to fur­ther trans­late your enter­ing knowl­edge into some­thing dif­fer­ent and more complete.

To this end, it’s not a bad idea to get in touch with writ­ing expe­ri­ence that may take you back to your expe­ri­ence with writ­ing in grade school. Regard­less of the pre­pared­ness of the stu­dent, whether each stu­dent is capa­ble of writ­ing a sol­id, clear sum­ma­ry, they at least know what is meant by the idea of a sum­ma­ry.  Like­wise, the notion of report writing—informing the reader—is usu­al­ly under­stood as a respect­ed qual­i­ty of aca­d­e­m­ic writ­ing.  What is usu­al­ly lost some­where between fourth and tenth grade is the impor­tance of cre­ativ­i­ty and style in writ­ing. Cre­ative writ­ing does not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean fic­tion. Style does not sim­ply refer to the notion of vocab­u­lary and word choice, though these are always rel­e­vant to the writ­ing process. Cre­ativ­i­ty and style invoke the same impulse that pro­duces a joke, that guides your spon­tane­ity, and inspires your cloth­ing choice.  These things are about get­ting in touch with the way in which you already have mas­tery of words and ideas, the ways in which you manip­u­late and use lan­guage in your every­day, per­son­al lives.

Because stu­dents in high school are often asked to focus on objec­tiv­i­ty rather than on cre­ativ­i­ty in their “aca­d­e­m­ic” writ­ing, it is impor­tant to recon­nect with your own his­to­ry with cre­ative writ­ing.  The fol­low­ing ques­tions can help you recall your own under­stand­ing of and rela­tion­ship with cre­ative writing:

  • When’s the last time you were asked to pro­duce cre­ative writing?
  • In your opin­ion, what counts as cre­ative writing?
  • What was it like for you to pro­duce cre­ative writing?
  • What sorts of things did you choose to write about?

In recon­nect­ing with cre­ativ­i­ty in writing—wherever it may have entered your experience—you will be bet­ter able to allow your­self to speak using ver­nac­u­lar, to make use of dia­logue as an orga­ni­za­tion­al strat­e­gy, to write inter­est­ing and evoca­tive prose.  Spend some time think­ing about what it means for you to write cre­ative­ly.  It is in this cre­ativ­i­ty, through the expe­ri­en­tial, that your ethno­graph­ic project will assume more famil­iar­i­ty.  The famil­iar­i­ty of aca­d­e­m­ic skills—summarizing and the like—is impor­tant, but it will be the cre­ativ­i­ty you employ in your writ­ing, the ways that you work to evoke con­nec­tion with the read­er that will inter­est and involve you the most in your own writ­ing.  Explore cre­ativ­i­ty in your writ­ing and in doing so your inter­est in and abil­i­ty to pro­duce prose will increase most dra­mat­i­cal­ly.  Such intro­spec­tion may also trig­ger in gen­uine plea­sure in the work of writing.