Ethnography of Communication Project

Ethnography of Communication Project
Ethnography of Communication Project
Bonvillain, Nancy. (2014/2011). Language, Culture, and Communication: The Meaning of Messages. Seventh or Sixth Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Supplemental readings will be attached to course modules as PDF files and/or links. To read these files, you will need Adobe Reader software, which can be downloaded for free at

This project invites you to become a participant-observer and to prepare and present a short ethnography of communication. As you know from reading Nancy Bonvillain (see, especially chapter 4) as well as Keith Basso?s article, linguistic anthropologists analyze speech within broad cultural and social contexts, producing ethnographies of communication, which explore verbal and nonverbal interaction in order to uncover explicit and implicit norms of communication in particular settings.
Bonvillain, Chapter 4: Contextual Components: Outline of An Ethnography of Communication
Instructions: Read this section for an overview of Bonvillain’s Chapter 4
1) Choose a safe communicative practice or event that is familiar or unfamiliar to you.
2) Unless the event is a large, public gathering with no designated coordinators, you should explain your project to event coordinators and other participants, if feasible, beforehand and gain their verbal consent to engage in participant observation among them.
3) As part of our required class discussion, due Saturday, 9/14, at 2 pm PST, turn in a one-paragraph summary of what you plan to do, when, where, and why. Also explain how and with whom you obtained consent to conduct your project. (5 points)
1) Attend the event/activity at least one time.
2) Engage all of your senses to experience the event, and focus on the following interconnected factors:
SETTING ? What are the specific characteristics of the physical and social arenas for action? When and where does the event unfold? Make a map or diagram of the place, or, if you have the participants? permission, tape record, photograph, or videotape all or part of the event. Note the wealth of sounds and sights in the setting. Based on your knowledge and observation, does the activity occur frequently, at regular intervals, on special occasions, or during certain times of the year?
PARTICIPANTS – Who are the people involved? How are the people in the setting alike? How are they different? How do the people locate themselves within the place? How do you locate yourself within the place? Note attributes of particular people, including their age, gender, race/ethnicity, ways of speaking, dress, socioeconomic status, or any other attributes that seem especially salient. Record as accurately as possible what and how particular people say and do, using James Spradley?s verbatim principle. Focus on people?s language choices, including pronunciation; prosodic elements (velocity, volume, pitch, stress, pauses); syntax (simplicity or complexity of word order, phrase construction), lexicon (word choices), and non-verbal cues (eye contact, touch, physical space, intervals of silence). What attitudes and emotions are they conveying? How do the people and events make you feel?
TOPICS ? What brings the participants together and what are they talking about? Catalogue the range of topics, focusing on what is said and unsaid. How does the setting constrain and facilitate the range of topics discussed?
G OALS ? What are the various participants? individual and communal goals? Do goals vary depending on participants? roles and status within the setting? Why do you think the people are engaged in this activity or practice?
STEP III: DESCRIPTIVE WRITE UP (Approximately three typed, double-spaced pages ? 25 points)
1) Write detailed notes (or speak them into a tape recorder) as soon after the event as possible. Be sure to cover all of the questions outlined above.
2) Prepare a three-page typed description that captures your experience and addresses the questions above. Include any maps, diagrams, drawings, photographs, audio or videotapes produced or gathered during step II.
STEP IV: ANALYSIS/INTERPRETATION (Approximately three typed, double-spaced pages ? 20 points)
1) What tentative evaluations and interpretations can you draw from your write-up? (Be sure to explain whether the event or activity was familiar or unfamiliar to you at the outset.)
a. What is emphasized and what is left out of your account?
b. What general insights does your description yield?
c. What explicit and implicit communicative norms have you uncovered?
d. Explore the cultural messages, purposes, or significance of the activities described. You are encouraged to apply anthropological concepts from any of the course readings to your analysis (e.g., cultural models, speech act and/or narrative theory). Original use of such concepts is the benchmark of excellent work. However, because you are analyzing people based on only one observation from one or two events, any conclusions and generalizations you make should be tentative.
2) What have you learned about participant observation from this exercise?
a. What do you know about the people and activity you studied? What don?t you know?
b. What have you learned about yourself?
c. If you were to continue to study the people you encountered at this event, what would you do next?
Information that will help writes the project:
YOUR PROJECT (descriptive write-up and analysis/interpretation ? a total of approximately six typed, double-spaced pages) is due on Sunday, 10/6, at 11 pm PST. Please attach your paper as a word file.

Rubric for Ethnography of Communication Projects
Criteria Limited (1) Acceptable (2) Proficient (3)
submitted complete plan, adhering to research ethics did not submit plan ? did not adhere to research ethics (e.g., did not ask permission; used subterfuge when observing others) submitted complete plan on time, or prior to conducting participant observation ? adhered to all research ethics submitted complete plan on time ? adhered to all research ethics
made good observations,
using all five senses observations are absent or vague most observations are clear and detailed ? employs Spradley?s verbatim principle once or twice all observations are clear and detailed ? employs Spradley?s verbatim principle three or more times
wrote clear description Descriptions are absent or unclear most descriptions are clear and relevant ? most questions in guide are addressed All descriptions are clear and relevant ? all or nearly all questions in the guide are addressed
wrote clear and thoughtful analysis analysis is absent or inconsistent with description analysis is consistent with description ? most questions in guide are addressed analysis is consistent with description, at least one anthropological theory or concept is applied, and all or nearly all questions in the guide are addressed

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