Communication and Culture | Current Topics in Communication and Culture: Ethnography as a Cultural Critique
C334 | 14929 | Dr. Jane Goodman
Topic: Ethnography as Cultural Critique
Class Number: 14929
TuTh 1:00 PM-2:15 PM (TE F260)
A portion of this course reserved for majors
Professor: Dr. Jane Goodman
Office: Mottier Hall 205
“Let us never cease from thinking: What is this ‘civilization’ in
which we find ourselves?”
—Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas
“Ethnography makes the familiar strange, the exotic quotidian. . . .
[It] is actively situated between powerful systems of meaning. It
poses its questions at the boundaries of civilizations, cultures,
classes, races, and genders.”
—James Clifford, Writing Culture
This course explores the ways ethnographic work can serve as a way
of “making strange” the world in which we live. By looking at our
world through the lens of other societies and cultures, we begin to
notice things about our societies and ourselves that we had always
taken for granted. We start to understand the ways in which our own
world is structured. We begin to pay attention to the culturally
specific nature of our beliefs about gender, about morality, about
personhood, about family. In so doing, we develop a more informed,
critical perspective on our own society.
Throughout the course, we will work comparatively: That is, we will
tack back and forth between U.S. society and other forms of social
and cultural organization. Topics we might investigate
ethnographically include (among others):
Personhood: What does it mean to be a person? Are there key elements
of “personhood” in U.S. society? Where do we get our ideas about
personhood? How do other cultures understand what personhood means?
Morality: Is there a universal morality? Or is morality culturally
relative? What happens to our own ideas about morality when we
place them up against other societies’ beliefs?
Families and Relationships: The traditional nuclear family is only
one kind of family arrangement. How else have societies organized
human relationships? What are the implications of these arrangements
for contemporary ideas about “family values”?
Gender: What does it mean to be a gendered person? How do different
societies perform gender? Is gender something “natural” that we are
born with, or is it culturally constituted? Why might these
questions matter with regard to current debates in U.S. society?
The Body and the Senses: Is there “a human body” that exists
outside of culture, or is the body culturally constructed? Are
smell, taste, and other senses filtered through cultural ideas? What
do ideas of smell and taste have to do with cultural morality?
Ownership and Cultural Property: Who owns cultural property? What
kinds of assumptions about ownership inform the ways things can
circulate? How, for instance, do debates about the circulation of
music on MP/3 files point to cultural ideas about the nature of
ownership and property?
Students will engage in ongoing ethnographic work in the Bloomington
area throughout this course. The course will include an
introduction to ethnographic research methods.