I've been on sabbatical this Fall, but our 10-week Winter term starts on Monday. I'm working on the syllabus for my Ethnography class today. Ethnography (culture + writing) is the process (understanding what folks do & what it means to them in cultural context) and product (books/articles) of research in cultural anthropology. Our texts...
  1. Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead
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    A 24-year old Mead was encouraged by her mentor Franz Boas to undertake this research that explored the lives of Samaoan girls. Her argument, that the angst we associate with adolescence is culturally constructed and not a biological universal, furthered Boas's work against pseudo-scientific racial determinism (Hitler hated him!). It's an accessible and influential (and controversial!) classic. Lily King's great novel Euphoria is based on Mead's life after Coming of Age...
  2. Guests of the Sheik by Elizabeth Fernea
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    Fernea went to a rural Iraqi village in the 1950s with her husband for his fieldwork, but her ethnographic memoir of this time has endured. She tells her own fish out of water story while conveying the richness of the lives of the village women (veiled and under purdah), beating the literary, "reflexive" turn in ethnography by a few decades. This is the book students tell me they remember best years later and the ending makes me cry every time I read it.
  3. Writing Women's Worlds by Lila Abu-Lughod
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    Abu-Lughod is a badass feminist anthropologist and through the Egyptian Bedouin women's narratives she relates here, I'm able to sneak in more contemporary ethnographic theory. We also read her compelling article "Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?" (http://org.uib.no/smi/seminars/Pensum/Abu-Lughod.pdf) (recently expanded into a book) which, at its heart, argues that we need to understand what women want for themselves rather than impose a (often Western/white) notion of liberation upon them.