Introduction

This book exists, is here for you as a resource because we, the authors/editors of this text (Suzanne Blum Mal­ley and Ames Hawkins), saw very sim­i­lar, very excit­ing things hap­pen­ing in our class­rooms using ethno­graph­ic research meth­ods in our inquiry-based first-year writ­ing class­rooms. We have watched our stu­dents devel­op strong voic­es as writ­ers, while also using crit­i­cal ana­lyt­i­cal skills and address­ing impor­tant ideas of ethics, iden­ti­ty, and rep­re­sen­ta­tion. In our class­rooms, we have seen a greater lev­el of invest­ment in ethno­graph­ic projects than we have seen in more tra­di­tion­al rhetor­i­cal­ly based assign­ments. Ethno­graph­ic writ­ing, by cre­at­ing a very authen­tic role for the researcher and a con­nec­tion to com­mu­ni­ty, offers a means to address the alien­ation and/or bore­dom that many non-tra­di­tion­al writ­ers and first-year col­lege stu­dents feel when con­front­ed with the tra­di­tion­al com­po­si­tion curriculum—any cur­ricu­lum, actu­al­ly.  More impor­tant­ly, ethno­graph­ic research allows stu­dents to access what can seem so ter­ri­bly dif­fi­cult when framed in oth­er assign­ments: to pur­sue a line of inquiry rather than a top­ic, to research eth­i­cal­ly, and to write with author­i­ty.

Though we ini­tial­ly wrote this text with the first-year writ­ing class­room in mind, we have come to under­stand that there are many cours­es that also present stu­dents with ethno­graph­ic writ­ing assign­ments.  These cours­es may or may not be designed to spend much time on the ques­tion of how to get start­ed with these projects. In addi­tion, instruc­tors might want to sup­ple­ment the basic method­olog­i­cal approach with their own course con­tent. We are also aware that text­book size and cost has explod­ed in recent years. We believe in pre­serv­ing the inter­net as an open-source space and wish to rein­force our belief with prac­tice. As a result of these real­iza­tions, we have reor­ga­nized the project in order to 1) Make it rel­e­vant and acces­si­ble to stu­dents in near­ly any col­lege class­room who might be assigned an ethno­graph­ic writ­ing project; 2) Allow instruc­tors to sup­ple­ment the core method­ol­o­gy (pre­sent­ed here in Chap­ters 1–6), as they see fit, using any num­ber of Sup­ple­men­tal Mod­ules that offer addi­tion­al mate­ri­als, lens­es, and mul­ti-modal exam­ples of and for issues and ideas dis­cussed in the core text. 3) Make it acces­si­ble and avail­able, via the inter­net and oth­er tech­no­log­i­cal plat­forms, to stu­dents and instruc­tors every­where.

A dis­claimer: we want to make clear that while we use and invoke method­olog­i­cal prin­ci­ples and prac­tices asso­ci­at­ed with ethnog­ra­phy, we are not claim­ing Engag­ing Com­mu­ni­ties as a text that teach­es ethnog­ra­phy as a research method­ol­o­gy.  This book has been designed to help stu­dents (most like­ly under­grad­u­ates, per­haps high school, pos­si­bly grad­u­ates ) envi­sion inter­est­ing, hands-on research projects that are even­tu­al­ly converted—translated—into writ­ten text.  Through­out the text, we often use the word ethno­graph­ic in order to describe our method­olog­i­cal pre­sen­ta­tion and the­o­ret­i­cal con­cerns as this term reflects the ped­a­gog­i­cal (teach­ing) and rhetor­i­cal (argu­ing) con­cerns of ethnog­ra­phy, rather than the actu­al dis­ci­pli­nary under­stand­ing of the method­ol­o­gy.  We choose to use to teach this way because ethno­graph­ic writ­ing allows for spe­cif­ic dis­cus­sion regard­ing how to involve and inter­est a read­er, in evok­ing phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al con­nec­tion with writ­ing, rather than sim­ply becom­ing informed or per­suad­ed by any spe­cif­ic piece of writ­ing.

There are many rea­sons an instructor—in a wide range of classes—might assign and ethno­graph­ic essay. 1) An ethno­graph­ic approach to com­po­si­tion rec­og­nizes that writ­ing is social and is tied to issues of iden­ti­ty, cul­ture, and author­i­ty.  2) Ethno­graph­ic research pro­vides a hands-on method for crit­i­cal inquiry, through which stu­dents learn how to eval­u­ate, ques­tion, syn­the­size, and apply what they are learn­ing, and to extend and devel­op and qual­i­fy ideas. 3) Ethno­graph­ic research and writ­ing gives stu­dents some­thing to write about–something with which they become (or are) very familiar–so they are able to write as author­i­ties and with author­i­ty. 4) This kind of research high­lights and empha­sizes a clear under­stand­ing of the dif­fer­ence between pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary sources and how the two can be woven togeth­er. 5) It vir­tu­al­ly elim­i­nates the strug­gles with and temp­ta­tions of pla­gia­rism, because stu­dents have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to build their own pri­ma­ry data­bas­es.  6) In ask­ing stu­dents to write about cul­ture, one with which they are famil­iar, or an aspect of cul­ture they care about, stu­dents are able to speak and write  in the lan­guage that sig­ni­fies, that means, for them.  7) Ethno­graph­ic research and writ­ing is eth­i­cal as it hon­ors the lit­era­cies with which stu­dents enter the class­room, the many dif­fer­ent dialects and lan­guages with which they already deft­ly inter­pret the world.  8) Ethno­graph­ic research and writ­ing is used and under­stood in the dis­ci­pline of the course as a valid knowl­edge-mak­ing method. What­ev­er the rea­son you’re here, read­ing now, we trust that what you’ll get from the Chap­ters 1–6 of Engag­ing Com­mu­ni­ties is a clear, step-wise struc­ture for writ­ing an ethno­graph­ic essay.

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