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ANTH 401 Course cover

Anthropology (ANTH) 401
Ethnography, the Writing of Culture (Revision 2)

Revision 2 closed, replaced by current version.

View previous syllabus.

Delivery mode: Individualized study.

Credits: 3 - 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.)

Centre: Centre for Work and Community Studies

ANTH 401 has a Challenge for Credit option.

Course website


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 [forthcoming] 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, you must achieve a grade of at least 50 percent on each of the assignments. The weighting of the composite grade is as follows:

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

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

Course Materials


Van Maanen, John. 1988. 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 http://cc.joensuu.fi/sights/kevin.htm

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
Cases and Comments
Joan Cassell

American Anthropological Association Statement on Ethics [online publication]