Anthropology (ANTH) 401

Ethnography, the Writing of Culture (Revision 3)

ANTH 401 Course cover

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Delivery Mode: Individualized study online

Credits: 3

Area of Study: Social Science

Prerequisite: ANTH 275 and at least 3 credits of senior socio-cultural anthropology. ANTH 307, ANTH 362, ANTH 375, ANTH 394 or SOAN 384 or equivalent.

Precluded Course: ANTH 301 (ANTH 401 may not be taken for credit if credit has already been obtained for ANTH 301.)

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences

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Ethnography is a fundamental part of anthropology. Ethnography “the writing of culture” is used in two contrasting senses, referring both to the method of qualitative research characterized by living and working among people through the process of participant observation and to the product of this research: the written account. This course will focus largely on the process of producing, reading and interpreting written accounts of culture, not on the methodology required for ethnographic research. Anthropology 402: Ethnographic Research Methods will provide an updated ethnographic methods course.

In this course we will review approaches to ethnography, read a series of ethnographies, consider ethics and contemporary issues in ethnography, and gain a sense of present and future directions and significance of ethnography. The ethnographies represent a range of approaches, and represent communities from North America, Africa, and Australia, including cosmopolitan urban and rural traditional societies, recorded by women and men.

Course Objectives

  1. to gain an understanding of what is involved in the process of ethnography from fieldwork to the written account
  2. to contextualize written accounts of culture and communities
  3. to be able to critically assess ethnographic writing to understand the choices made by the author in the process of representation
  4. to evaluate the significance of ethnographic writing in the contemporary world


The course consists of the following units.

  • Unit 1: Introduction- What is ethnography?
  • Unit 2: The Realist Tale
  • Unit 3: Confessional Tales
  • Unit 4: Interpretive Ethnography and Critical Ethnography
  • Unit 5: Betwixt and Between- Fieldwork , the Academy and the People
  • Unit 6: Reflections on Contemporary Ethnography
  • Unit 7: Ethnography as Story/ Sharing the Story
  • Unit 8: Post Modernism and Ethics
  • Unit 9: New Contexts, New Directions- Ethnography in the Globalizing World


To receive credit for ANTH 401, the student must complete all assignments, achieve a minimum overall grade of D (50 percent), and a passing mark on the final assignment (critical essay or research paper).

Activity Weighting
Essay 1 Ethnography Review 20%
Essay 2 Ethnography Review 20%
Ethics Essay 15%
Critical Review or Research Paper 45%
Total 100%

To learn more about assignments and examinations, please refer to Athabasca University's online Calendar.

Course Materials


Van Maanen, John. 2nd., 2011. Tales of the Field, On Writing Ethnography. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Van Maanen, John, Ed. 1993. Representation in Ethnography. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.


Smith-Bowen, Elenore. 1954. Return to Laughter. New York: Anchor, Doubleday.

Rabinow, Paul. 1977. Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bourgeois, Philippe. 1995. In Search of Respect, Selling Crack in El Barrio. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rose, Deborah Bird. 2000. Dingo Makes Us Human, Land and Life in an Australian Aboriginal Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fienup-Riordan, Ann. 1990. Eskimo Essays, Yup’ik Lives and How We See Them. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Cruikshank, Julie, in collaboration with Angela Sidney, Kitty Smith and Annie Ned.1990. Life Lived Like a Story, Life Stories of Three Yukon Native Elders. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.


Rabinow, Paul. 1986. Representations are Social Facts. Ethnicity and the Post-Modern Arts of Memory. In Writing Culture, the Poetics and Politics of Ethnography edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus. Pp234- 261.

Anderson, Kevin Taylor. 1999. Ethnographic Hypermedia: Transcending Thick Descriptions. Sights-Visual Anthropology Forum

Fabian, Johannes. 2002. Virtual Archives and Ethnographic Writing, “Commentary” as a new Genre? CA*Forum on Theory in Anthropology. Current Anthropology 43(5): 775-786.

Online Material

AAA Handbook on Ethics [online publication]

Joan Cassell and Sue-Ellen Jacobs

Cases and Solutions
Sue-Ellen Jacobs (selections)

Cases and Comments
Joan Cassell (selections)

American Anthropological Association Statement on Ethics [online publication]

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 3, March 16, 2009.

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