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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2008

E 314J • Literature and Ethnography

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
34435 TTh
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
FAC 10
Little, M

Course Description

Computer-assisted instruction

"Whatever use ethnographic texts will have in the will involve enabling conversations across societal lines--of ethnicity, religion, class, gender, language, race--that have grown progressively more nuanced, more immediate, and more irregular." -Clifford Geertz

Can ethnographic texts achieve what Clifford Geertz hopes? Geertz, one of the founders of the interpretivist school of anthropology, said that doing good ethnography is just like writing good literature. In this class, we'll explore the similarities--and differences--between ethnographic and literary uses of narrative, especially as they both try to "enable conversations across societal lines."

We will start by reading traditional ethnographic texts and move toward more experimental ones. We will also read works of fiction that systematically represent a culture. In fact, many of the texts we'll read blur the lines between the ethnographic and the literary, as in works of fiction written by trained anthropologists and experimental ethnographic texts that weave local literatures and personal reflection into their write-ups. Themes we may explore include: How do ethnographic and literary narratives construct the Other? What is the role of the narrator's voice in establishing the authority of a cultural representation? What makes a narrative generalizable across cultural contexts? Do narrative forms tend to reproduce thinking already present in the author's culture? Or, can narrative forms enable one culture to understand another in deep and powerful ways?

Grading Policy

Class Participation 20%, Final Presentation 10%, Ethnography 10%, Paper 1 20%, Paper 2 40%


Possible literary texts to include:
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God and Mules and Men
Pearl Buck, The Good Earth
Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place

Selections from ethnographic texts to include:
Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa
James P. Spradley, You Owe Yourself a Drunk: An Ethnography of Urban Nomads
Renato Rosaldo, "Grief and a Headhunter's Rage"
Ruth Behar, The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology that Breaks Your Heart
Kamala Visweswaran, Fictions of Feminist Ethnography


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