Ethnographic Research Methods for the Arts and Humanities Workshop

Ethnographic Research Methods for the Arts and Humanities Workshop

On 4th and 16th March 2021, the Universities of Aberdeen and Heriot-Watt hosted a Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities Cultural and Museum Studies Catalyst online workshop: Ethnographic Research Methods for the Arts and Humanities.

60 early stage PhD students from universities across the whole of Scotland who are undertaking research in disciplines as diverse as Theatre Studies, Political Philosophy, Education, and Heritage Studies joined staff from the Department of Anthropology at Aberdeen and the Intercultural Research Centre and Centre for Translation & Interpreting Studies in Scotland at Heriot-Watt, as well as heritage and arts practitioners, to think about how ethnographic methods can enhance their research.

Session 1 involved presentations on ethnographic methods from practitioners in arts and heritage and writing-up PhD students. Two weeks later in session 2, participants reported back on a fieldwork exercise (a practice interview or ethnographic observation) they completed between the sessions, and discussed how ethnography can bring new insights to how we engage with the world.  

PhD students Kirsty Kernohan (University of Aberdeen) and Morven Gregor (Glasgow School of Art) were amongst the presenters and discussion facilitators for the event. In keeping with the event, here they reflect on it as ethnographers...

Towards a micro-ethnography of an ethnographic methods workshop

A black screen populated by squares, each one either filled with a face and an interior or simply black with a full name, email or nickname. Sometimes selected pronouns are noted too.

For most, a familiar webinar or meeting experience. But even twenty-five years ago would it have been possible?  And even a year ago would we have hosted a workshop in this form? In making something familiar strange we practice ethnography.

Soon observation and even interaction spark on screen with an introduction to using ethnographic methods, followed by speakers deploying phrases such as; “the right to be wrong”; “everywhere as a field site”; “a new sign language”; “the art of noticing”; “deep mapping”; “contested since 1609.”

Away from the screen, between the split sessions, participants test out their skills.

Returning for the second segment of the workshop, a little less than two weeks later, the same group come back together with new perspectives. In smaller breakout rooms, discussions revolve around micro ethnographies of familiar spaces beyond which most participants could not travel for the practical task.

These known spaces have been reframed and rediscovered: parks have become memorials for murdered women, local walks are fuller or emptier of people, the bottom of the garden has become a site to make rubbings and sketches, and stations ebb and flow with reduced crowds catching essential trains.

Participants ended by reflecting on time, space, distanced engagements with each other, and the new places in their research for ethnographic methods.