5. Public Space

The Public Space fieldwork assignment for Cultural Anthropology 2021 is a classic exercise for anthropology students to experience the Research Methods discussed in the previous class. For the next class, we read the textbook chapter on The Body.

The instructions for this exercise are borrowed from a previous Cultural Anthropology textbook. In the time of the Delta variant, please make the following modifications:

  1. Do not go into any public space that you would not normally go into.
  2. Avoid being “in the center of the action.” Take up a peripheral observation point.
  3. It is fine to do this assignment looking through your window or from a safe vantage point onto a public space.

In other words, do not take *ANY* health risks in order to accomplish this fieldwork!

Please consider these questions during observations:

  1. If possible, think about how the space was used before COVID, during the COVID school year, and now. (Don’t worry if you didn’t know about this space before–you can either speculate as to how you imagine it might have been, or just concentrate on the now. If you want to compare with what students did in fall 2020, check out the Coronavirus Fieldwork write-ups.)
  2. Also, in the spirit of the Digital Anthropology portion of chapter 2, keep your eye on digital aspects–what do people do digitally in that space and has the digital age changed the space?

Instructions: In Chapter 2 of Introducing Anthropology, Pountney and Marić discuss one of the most important techniques in the anthropologist’s toolkit: participant observation. Now, it is your turn to practice this technique for yourself. Spend 10 minutes in a public space nearby (outside an elevator, a busy hallway, lobby, the cafeteria or a coffee shop). Find a place within this location that puts you in the center of the action, but lets you observe what is going on around you. Sit for 10 minutes and write down what you observe, paying attention to the following questions:

  1. Who is around? What are people wearing? Are there more men than women, or vice versa? Are people alone or in groups?
  2. What are people doing? What activities are they partaking in? What are people talking about?

Try to note as many details as you can–be specific!

After the 10 minutes are up, take another 2 or 3 minutes to document your experience as a participant observer, answering the following questions:

  1. Do you think people noticed you?
  2. How did you feel?
  3. Was it challenging to take field notes in the moment?

Then please do a brief write-up in the Disqus comment section below.