Anthropology 456: Contemporary Ethnography

5 credits
Summer Quarter 1998
University of Washington

Class meets 6:00 pm - 8:20 pm on Mondays and Wednesdays in Denny 206. We will meet in Collab 1 in the Odegaard Undergraduate Library (OUGL) for part or all of some class meetings. These will be announced in advance in class.

Instructor: Devon D. Brewer

Course Description

This course provides an introduction to systematic ethnographic methods. The perspective guiding the course is that ethnography is an empirical, scientific approach for describing social and cultural aspects of human life. The course highlights examples of systematic ethnography, with special emphasis on applied ethnography done in the contemporary United States. Students will get hands-on experience using most techniques covered in class and basic training in a few important software packages for ethnographic data collection and analysis.


This course requires a significant amount of time and effort outside of class for reading, completing fieldwork assignments, and performing related computer tasks. There will be one or two assignments due each week for most of the course. Each assignment builds on the previous assignments. Late assignments will be penalized 10% per late class period. Not all material can be covered in class, so you will need to stay current with the readings to complete the assignments successfully. All assignments must be typewritten and double-spaced. This course has no examinations. To complete assignments, you will need regular access to an IBM-compatible PC running DOS 3.0 or higher or any version of Windows. On the second day of class (Wednesday, June 24), you will need to bring 2 formatted 3.5" floppy disks to class to copy the software.


class participation 10%
weekly assignments 60%
project paper 30%



Required books are available for purchase at the University Bookstore.

Additional brief articles and handouts will be distributed in class and/or held on reserve at OUGL.


All readings are on 24-hour reserve at OUGL.

Software (freeware, distributed in class at no charge)

These software programs are loaded on PCs at Center for Social Science Computing and Research (CSSCR, Savery 14X; hours: M–F 9-5) and Collab 1 in OUGL.

Weekly Schedule

Week 1

Monday, June 22 Introduction
Science and method
Ethnographic methods: qualitative and quantitative
Key definitions and anthropological concepts
Semantic domains
Lab: DOS overview computer exercise
Read: Bernard, pp. 1-18; Spradley, pp. 3-20
Assigned: Assignment #1 (project topic), due by e-mail Friday, July 3rd

Wednesday, June 24
Types of ethnographic interviewing
Text analysis
Lab: Text analysis computer exercise
Read: Bernard, pp. 102-135, 200-207, 339-347; Spradley, pp. 26-35; CAM articles by Ryan & Weisner, and Bernard
Assigned: Assignment #2 (text analysis), due in class, Monday, July 6

Week 2

Monday, June 29
Guest Lecture: Professor Marc Miller--stages of ethnographic research and applied ethnography
Read: Bernard, pp. 19-70; Spradley, pp. 39-50

Wednesday, July
Guest Lecture: Professor Edward Liebow--ethnographic research on perceptions of food safety
Read: Bernard, pp. 71-101, 65-171, 208-236, 360-370; Spradley, pp. 20-24

Week 3

Monday, July 6
DUE: Assignment #2
Review and discussion of project topics and text analysis results
Semi-structured interviewing demonstration
Protecting informants, Types of informants, Sampling informants
Read: Bernard, pp. 136-164; 310-339, 347-359; Spradley, pp. 53-72
Assigned: Assignment #3 (semi-structured interviewing guide and consent form), due Wednesday, July 8

Wednesday, July 8
DUE: Assignment #3
Review and discussion of semi-structured interviewing guides
Types of observation
Archival methods
Read: Bernard, pp. 180-207, 386-392; Spradley, pp. 73-84; Weller & Romney, pp. 6-20
Assigned: Assignment #4 (semi-structured interviews), due Wednesday July 15; Assignment #5 (observation), due Monday, July 20

Week 4

Monday, July 13
Cognitive anthropology
Free listing
Taxonomies and paradigms
Lab: Free listing computer exercise
Read: Spradley, pp. 85-99, 112-121; Weller & Romney, pp. 20-37, 49-55
Assigned: Assignment #6 (free listing), due Wednesday, June 22

Wednesday, July 15
DUE: Assignment #4
Review and discussion of semi-structured interviews
Identification of semantic domains
Judged similarity methods: pile sorts, triads, paired comparisons

Week 5

Monday, July 20
DUE: Assignment #5
Lab: Judged similarity data collection computer exercises

Wednesday, July 22
DUE: Assignment #6
Review and discussion of free lists
Scaling and clustering

Week 6

Monday, July 27
Lab: Scaling and clustering computer exercises
Read: Weller & Romney, pp. 38-49
Assigned: Assignment #7 (judged similarity), due Wednesday, August 5

Wednesday, July 29
Ordering techniques: rankings, ratings, paired comparisons, and other methods
Lab: Ordering techniques computer exercises
Read: Bernard, pp. 242-244; Weller & Romney, pp. 55-69;

Week 7

Monday, August 3
Other structured interviewing techniques
Read: Weller & Romney, pp. 69-85
Assigned: Assignment # 8 (other structured interviewing technique), due Wednesday, August 12

Wednesday, August 5
DUE: Assignment #7
Cultural consensus analysis
Lab: Cultural consensus analysis computer exercise

Week 8

Monday, August 10
Consensus analysis continued
Read: Bernard, pp. 371-385

Wednesday, August 12
DUE: Assignment #8
Ethnographic decision tree models
Further examples of systematic ethnographies

Week 9

Monday, August 17
Further examples of systematic ethnographies
Review and discussion of projects

Wednesday, August 19
DUE: Project papers
Project presentations

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