For the Ethnography Matters Reading List Series, we’ve invited several ethnographers to share their reading lists with our readers. I want to thank Roy Christopher for giving us the inspiration to create the Reading List series! Every summer, Roy asks friends and colleuage to create a reading list in which he laboriously compiles and links to Powell’s online store. After we saw his list, we wanted to create an onoing one at Ethnography Matters. Do check out Roy’s 2012 list that has contributions from Howard Reingold to Douglas Rushkoff. First in the line up is Ethnography Matters contributor Tricia Wang, who is coming back from a year and a half of fieldwork and has curated a list ethnographic monographs and non-fiction books. Carla Borsoi from AOL and Jay Owens from FACE also contribute for July.
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I haven’t read any books because I’ve been in fieldwork, so I don’t even know where to start. But I managed to narrow down my list into two themes: 1.) ethnographic monographs written by ethnographers and 2.) creative non-fiction written by journalists & writers.
LIST 1: ETHNOGRAPHIC MONOGRAPHS
I’ve chosen several ethnographic monographs about how people learn capitalism. I am quite obsessed with this topic because what I see happening in China is people learning capitalism – like learning how to be a consumer, investor, borrower, and credit card users. Insurance ads are plastered to billboards, malls are open til midnight, and teenagers are learning how to shape their identity through products. Though I’ve always felt helpless when I am observing “capitalism.” Coming from a sociology department, I’ve been heavily trained in Marxist theory. Marxism helps me understand how labor is a commodity and how people become alienated from their own work. But Marxism doesn’t help me understand why consumers want commodities, how financial markets work, and why capitalism continuously mutates. I’ve found three monographs that address the questions that Marxist theory doesn’t address and that will hopefully help me better understand my field site. Read More…
As ethnographic practice has spilled out into the broader world of design and policy-making, business strategy and marketing, the monograph has not remained the singular format for presenting ethnographic work. In the spaces I’m most familiar with, the design community and high-tech industry, it is the conference paper (see EPIC, DIS, CSCW, and CHI, etc), the technology demo, and within corporate walls, the PowerPoint slideset or edited video that have become established formats for delivering ethnographic outputs. There is great pressure in some subfields to offer clearly outlined implications and propose practices alongside (or instead of) the theory and holistic description of the more conventional format.
In light of the publication this week of my own ethnographic monograph titled Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafes of Urban Ghana, I thought it worth considering the question: why should someone outside of the Academy read my book or any other of this genre?