Urban Ethnography: Volume 16

Cover of Urban Ethnography

Legacies and Challenges

Subject:

Table of contents

(13 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-xiii
click here to view access options

Part I The Legacy of the Chicago School

Abstract

The aim of this chapter is to consider the importance of the Chicago School in urban sociology today, both theoretically and methodologically. I will start by showing some indicators and reflections on its importance in American urban sociology. I will then focus on how this heritage has been used and adapted in Italy. In particular, I will present some theoretical and empirical studies implemented in the Bologna metropolitan area by a group of sociologists who, in the Italian context are probably using the Chicago School tools to study urban change and urban problems most explicitly. My contribution is based on bibliographic research carried out both in Italy and in the United States, as well as on some interviews conducted with American urban sociologists. The main findings show the persistent importance of several key elements of the Chicago School, both in Italy and in the United States: the general theoretical approach (space and place affect people), some specific concepts (community, neighborhood, and natural area), and methodology (combination of qualitative and quantitative tools).

Abstract

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.

Part II How to Train Ethnographers

Abstract

We examine what makes urban ethnography unique as a sociological subfield and how to convey this method to aspiring urban ethnographers. As a qualitative research approach, methodological sensibilities about observing, sampling, and data analysis cross boundaries and transcend the urban setting. We suggest a short observational exercise of checking out in a grocery store to stimulate the ethnographic imagination. Next, we turn to three ways to cultivate an ethnographic eye toward the urban: walking the city, paying attention to interactions and institutions, and examining communities and networks. We end with an appeal to engaging with a community of inquiry.

Abstract

Ethnography is not only a set of tools with which to collect data, but an epistemological vantage point from which to apprehend the social world. In this vein, we articulate a model of teaching and learning ethnography that entails focusing on how to construct an ethnographic object. In this chapter, we describe our way of teaching ethnography as not simply a method of data collection, but as a manner of training that pays particular attention – before, during, and after fieldwork – to the theory-driven moments of the construction of sociological objects. How, as ethnographers, do we structure and give structure to the social milieu we investigate? In teaching the ethnographic craft, we focus on a specific series of elements: theory, puzzles, warrants, the relationship between claims and evidence, and the reconstruction of the local point of view. Moreover, we maintain that attention to these components of ethnographic object construction should be coupled with epistemological vigilance throughout the research process.

Part III Thinking about Space and Place

Abstract

As a method in sociology, urban ethnography is rather straightforward: it conducts participant observation in cities. In essence, urban ethnographers study place, and yet how place is portrayed is too often absent from ethnographic descriptions. Indeed, place is always present in the lives of people, but it becomes difficult to understand how place works in an ethnographic context. To reflect upon this puzzle, the following text offers a language for how we may make better sense of place as urban ethnographers and the role of place as a central actor in urban life. By revisiting classic and current ethnographies, we consider how place is constructed as an object of analysis, reflective of social phenomenon occurring within a city. Further, in identifying six tensions (in/out, order/disorder, public/private, past/present, gemeinschaft/gesellschaft, and discrete/diffuse), we demonstrate how descriptions of place are either present or absent in these ethnographies. To understand these tensions as they depict place, we maintain, it is to better understand how place is represented within ethnographies claiming to be urban. In conclusion, we present future directions for urban place-based ethnography that may offer more robust interpretations of place and the people who inhabit it.

Abstract

Classic urban ethnography has often viewed urbanization and the urban condition as pathological and the city as disorganized, with urban areas producing problems to be solved through the managerial control of urban space. This chapter presents an alternative view, introducing an Interaction Order approach within urban ethnography. This way of studying culture builds on the work of Emile Durkheim (1893), W. E. B. Du Bois (1903), Harold Garfinkel (1967), Erving Goffman (1983), and Anne Rawls (1987). Interaction Orders are shared rules and expectations that members of a group use to coordinate their daily social relations and sense-making, which take the form of taken-for-granted practices that are specific to a place and its circumstances. The power of this social order, which is constructed by the interactions among participants themselves, renders outsiders’ interventions counterproductive. Understanding local interaction orders enables ethnographers to interpret problems differently and imagine solutions that work with local culture.

Abstract

Drawing on shared research and educational trajectories, the authors illustrate the importance and challenge of tracing Black gay social life in urban ethnography. This chapter investigates the ephemeral nature of Black gay geographies using live experience and data collection from Los Angeles. Guided by Joseph Beam’s (1984) key sociological insight, we offer and amplify a new warrant for urban ethnography emergent from the study of Black and LGBTQ life, visibility is survival. In so doing, we aim to underscore the importance of ethnographic inquiry to understand the spatial and communal navigation of cities by Black gay people. In examining the unique Black gay maps of a rapidly changing Los Angeles, we articulate the multitude of ways that ethnographic inquiry serves as a correction to the record and a form of documenting threatened histories and everyday realities of Black LGBTQ life.

Abstract

Since ethnographers tend to study poor, urban black communities most often, it is not surprise that the methodological literature contains a wealth of information designed to help scholars do this kind of work. Far less is known about the challenges ethnographers face when “studying up,” that is exploring middle and upper-middle-class communities. Less is know too about the challenges of working in a suburb versus an urban community. This chapter helps to fill that void. By chronicling the challenges I faced in the field while collecting the data for Blue-Chip Black, my book about the identity options of middle and upper-middle-class suburban blacks, I show that the strategies ethnographers of the urban poor employ in their work are not necessarily transferable to studies of the upper classes. I identify a set of methodological tools appropriate for analysis of the upper classes. I then turn to the theoretical contributions of my study as a way of showing the kinds of insights that can be gleaned from a study of those near the top of the class ladder.

Part IV Layered Identities

Abstract

Based on ethnographic research in the Paris metropolitan region, I discuss how my identity as a Black American ethnographer was implicated in this urban ethnography. Specifically, I discuss the intersections of researcher identity with that of the “researched” and how I was simultaneously framed as an insider and outsider due to different facets of my own identity. I further argue that these insights were data in and of itself as they revealed how race and racism operate in a society that has long disavowed their existence.

Abstract

In this chapter, I analyze how the intersection of geographic and social locations shapes ethnographic relationships in urban areas. While early urban ethnographers were acutely aware of the importance of geographic location, I argue that researchers’ social locations were ignored, obscuring how their bodies and social identities lead to different forms of knowledge about the metropolis. I use data from a two-year ethnographic research project conducted in Caracas, Venezuela as well as interviews conducted with women qualitative researchers to consider gendered dynamics of fieldwork experiences and data collection. Using a framework of embodied ethnography, which posits that all ethnographic knowledge is shaped by researchers’ bodies, I argue that men and women confront similar but distinct challenges while conducting fieldwork, and discuss what this means for data collection in cities. Specifically, I focus on how social control mechanisms, the gendered meanings attached to researchers’ bodies, and geographic barriers in urban areas can facilitate and restrict fieldwork. Critiquing hegemonic standards within ethnography that encourage researchers to leave their bodies out of their tales of the field, I advocate for the incorporation of gendered research experiences in our ethnographic writing with the aim of producing more complete narratives, but also to better prepare future ethnographers for fieldwork.

Abstract

For migrant urban ethnographers who study their city of settlement, ethnography may have a double meaning, serving not only as an approach to understanding a city academically but also a pathway to connecting with a community more broadly and personally, a type of personal place making. This chapter uses the experiences of the author – an American working and living in Shanghai and Tokyo for over 20 years – to show how his evolving practice of the ethnography of the city relates to a slow process of coming to live purposefully in it. The chapter also details a migrant’s perspective on the ethnography of sexuality, nightlife and foodways in urban Asia. The insider-outsider relationship that the migrant ethnographer brings to the city may be viewed as both burden and asset. As transnational migrants, migrant ethnographers can perform as institutional mediaries who connect researchers across borders and as educational facilitators who help migrant students discover means of associating with an unfamiliar environment. In short, ethnography may be a way of living as well as learning.

Cover of Urban Ethnography
DOI
10.1108/S1047-0042201916
Publication date
2019-10-22
Book series
Research in Urban Sociology
Editor
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78769-033-2
eISBN
978-1-78769-033-2
Book series ISSN
1047-0042