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Week 3 //// Research Methods – Frances Davis

“Most of the literature on the relationship between art and anthropology has discussed the use of ethnographic methods, and how both disciplines could learn and exchange ideas about the uses of ethnography.” (Sansi, 2014, 5).

In this seminar we’ll consider the centrality of ethnography in contemporary debates on the intersection(s) of art and anthropology. 

In the first half of this session, we’ll build our understanding of three ethnographic methods:

  • The interview
  • Participant observation
  • Fieldnotes

We’ll look at how these methods are defined and practised in anthropology and then consider works of contemporary art that could be seen to employ similar ways of working, focusing on the similarities and differences in the use of these methods across the two disciplines. 

In the second half of the session, we’ll look at some of the critiques of this way of considering the intersection of art and anthropology: from Hal Foster’s cautionary framing of “pseudo-ethnographic” practices in art in The Artist as Ethnographer (1996) to more recent calls for more nuanced understandings of collaborations between art and anthropology that move beyond “strategies of appropriation” (Grimshaw and Ravetz, 2015, 431).


Pre-session work

In advance of our session, please read the set text and research the artwork/art project allocated to your group. I’ve provided some links to some online resources which you can use to guide your research.

As you’re looking at this material, consider the following questions which will form the basis of your discussion with your breakout group in part 1 of the session:

  • In what ways could this artwork be seen to employ the method outlined in the related chapter of Key Concepts in Ethnography?
  • Does the artist’s approach differ from the ethnographic definition? If so, how?
  • Why do you think the artist has chosen to make this work in this way? What does this method allow them to do?


Yellow Group: Interviews and conversations

Read – “Interviews and conversations” in Key Concepts in Ethnography by Karen O’Reilly. This is accessible online through DiscoverEd. 

Research – Trigger Tonic, Anne-Marie Copestake (1994-2004)

Green Group: Participant observation

Read – “Participant Observation” in Key Concepts in Ethnography by Karen O’Reilly. This is accessible online through DiscoverEd. 

Research – Touch Sanitation Performance, Mierle Laderman Ukeles (1979-1980)

Red Group: Fieldnotes

Read – “Fieldnotes” in Key Concepts in Ethnography by Karen O’Reilly. This is accessible online through DiscoverEd. 

Research – Post-partum document, Mary Kelly (1973-1979)


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