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Global Ethnography: Lessons from the Chicago School

Urban Ethnography

ISBN: 978-1-78769-034-9, eISBN: 978-1-78769-033-2

Publication date: 22 October 2019


The Chicago School of Sociology heralded a new age: that of the rise and establishment of sociology as an academic discipline in the US. It also spurred on an intellectual tradition in ethnography that focuses on a wide array of methodological tools and empirical data with a focus on the specificity of place that continues to live on in contemporary urban sociology. Yet, its traditions have also been extensively criticized. Burawoy (2000) is one preeminent scholar, who has denounced the Chicago School as being parochial, ahistorical, and decontextualized from the national and international processes that shape cities. Instead, he calls for a move toward “global ethnography,” one that focuses on “global processes, connections, and imaginations” (Burawoy et al., 2000). Increasingly, US urban sociologists study research sites that are located outside the US and pay attention to how global actors and/or transnational connections influence US dynamics. Given this trend, what, if any lessons can global and urban sociologists take away from the Chicago School? In this chapter, I highlight three such lessons: (1) the global is central to city life; (2) rooting our work in the specificities of place helps extend and build theory; and (3) the School still provides useful conceptual and methodological tools to study the global. In doing so, I argue that scholars should recognize the plurality of approaches to global ethnography and how each approach can further our understanding of how the global shapes social life.




I thank Richard E. Ocejo for inviting me to contribute to this volume and his helpful suggestions and insights, particularly in thinking about how we only know those Chicago School ethnographies that are published and cannot have a more complete understanding of the School until researchers uncover and examine its unpublished work. I also thank Randol Contreras for his helpful feedback, including raising questions about strawmen I created and pointing out the critiques that Abbott misses, in an earlier draft of this chapter. I also thank Erin Johnston and Joanne W. Golann for their comments on early sketching of this chapter. Finally, I thank Mitchell Duneier for introducing me to The Taxi-dance Hall in my early years as a graduate student.


Reyes, V. (2019), "Global Ethnography: Lessons from the Chicago School", Urban Ethnography (Research in Urban Sociology, Vol. 16), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 31-49.



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