Course Context and Participants

This course is offered througt the University of Oslo's 2019 Summer School in Comparative Social Sciences.   The course includes twenty, one-hour lecture/discussion segments over five days, organized about key themes and readings. 

There are 30 students in this course with diverse projects...  


The course extends from long-running  effort, experimental in tenor, to integrate new technologies and media into the work of Writing Culture.   Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead’s stunning work with photography – as both a research tool and means of conveying their analysis -- is one point of reference.    The history of filmmaking in the conduct and expression of cultural analysis has also been important, generating methodological questioning and innovation, and a body of work that literally provides multiple angles on matters of concern.  Newly available digital research tools, work spaces and modes of presentation offer opportunities to continue work in this vein....    Our digital work space for the course will be an instance of the Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography hosted by the Center for Ethnography. 

About the author

Kim Fortun is a Professor and Department Chair in the University of California Irvine’s Department of Anthropology.  Her research and teaching focus on environmental risk and disaster, and on experimental ethnographic methods and research design.  Her research has examined how people in different geographic and organizational contexts understand environmental problems, uneven distributions of environmental health risks, developments in the environmental health sciences, and factors that contribute to disaster vulnerability.  Fortun’s book Advocacy After Bhopal Environmentalism, Disaster, New World Orders was awarded the 2003 Sharon Stephens Prize by the American Ethnological Society.  From 2005-2010, Fortun co-edited the Journal of Cultural Anthropology. Currently, Fortun is working on a book titled Late Industrialism: Making Environmental Sense, on The Asthma Files, a collaborative project to understand how air pollution and environmental public health are dealt with in different contexts, and on design of the Platform for Experimental and Collaborative Ethnography (PECE), an open source/access digital platform for anthropological and historical research.  Fortun also runs the EcoEd Research Group, which turns ethnographic findings about environmental problems into curriculum for students (kindergarten through professional), and is helping organize both the Disaster-STS Research Network, and the Digital Practices in History and Ethnography Interest Group in the Research Data Alliance.  Fortun co-edits a book series for University of Pennsylvania Press titled Critical Studies in Risk and Disaster, designed to connect academic research to public problems and policy, reaching audiences in different regions of the world.  September 2017 through August 2019, Fortun serves as President of the Society for Social Studies of Science, the international scholarly society representing the field of Science and Technology Studies.


About the course

This course is a theoretically animated, hands-on exploration of experimental ethnography -- as an ethos, practice, and mode of expression.  Lectures will set students up to move through a series of “sketches” through which they work out different ways of setting up ethnographic projects, collecting, analyzing and interpreting data, and moving from ethnography to theory and back.  Students will also learn about technical tools that support ethnographic research, enabling collaboration among ethnographers and with researchers in other fields. The course will help students think about the tactics, promise and limits of ethnographic research, and about different ways ethnography can be designed and carried out.  

The course will tune ethnography to “late industrialism,” drawing out increasingly intense interaction across scales (local to planetary) and systems (eco-atmospheric, technoscientific, sociocultural, political, economic, discursive and educational).  These interactions produce new vulnerabilities and injustices, and call for new forms of expertise and governance. They also call for inventive, collaborative ethnography, new data practices and infrastructure, and critical engagements with the promise and politics of open science.


Students in the course are encouraged to build a sketchbook within which they can puzzle through an ethographic project, preserving documentation of the ways the project shifts and evolves.  The sketchbook can be downloaded or copied here.  Note that sketch templates are sometimes updated and new sketches are added. 

DAY 2 Design Work: Visualizing the Point

If you have images to share, add here. 

Day 2 Design Work: Planning Good Data Management

Digital systems have opened up new possibilities for creating an ethnographic data commons where research data is curated, shared (with attribution) and reused.  This would allow for new kinds of projects -- with greater historicity and dimensionality.  

Further, many funders now expect researchers to share their data and thus have supporting technical infrastructure.  

To support research data sharing and an ethnographic data commons, ethnographers working with the Research Data Alliance are developing a  Metadata Management Tool.  Fill it out -- in process figuring out what you don't yet know how to answer. 

Day 1 Design Work

Thinking Across Scales and Systems 

A key challenge in contemporary ethnography is to account for the many complex systems that produce the phenomena studied.  Visualizing questions across multiple scales and systems is a place to start, and return to, constantly questioning which scales and systems are figure and ground in your research design. 

DAY 1 Design Work

Staccato Project Designs 

In this activity, students will very quickly develop a design for an ethnographic project somehow focused on connections between climate change and migration. 

To get started thinking about possible probjects, see the short film Falling Through the Cracks: Climate Change, Migration and Displacement (5 min) (scroll to get to it). 

Here's the sketch template

DAY 1 Design Work

Data Ethnography

In this activity, students will experiment with "data ethnography" -- searching for particular data to learn (through participant observation" about data infrasctructures and cultures. 

Post what you find in response to these questions.