For the purposes of my ethnographic experiment, I chose to focus my observations on human-machine interactions. More specifically, I turned my attention to interactions between humans and small drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles, used for recreational photography. As my site of observation, I ventured out to a conservation area in Ottawa with my main interlocutor, referred to as Ben for the purposes of this exercise, who is the owner and controller of the drone, to take some aerial footage.
Elise Imray Papineau
For this assignment, I chose to carry out my observations at a club in downtown Ottawa, which doubles up as a concert venue on particular days. At least once a week, this club features bands that can be categorized as indie-rock, folk rock, alternative rock, electronic, punk, metal or hardcore, and most of which are local. As a crossover member of the punk-alternative-metal scene in Ottawa, I am very familiar with this site. For the purpose of this assignment, I wanted to pick a venue to which I could comfortably gain access. Despite my acquaintance with the location, I did not feel that my prior experiences would skew my observations, because concerts are sites for unpredictable behavior that are contingent on context, atmosphere and participation.
The idea for this assignment came to me while I was sitting in the front section of the bus, in that space generally reserved for people who need more accessible seating. Riding the bus on a daily basis, I became aware of how sitting in the front section affected my experience and produced specific anxieties (Should I be sitting here? Who is coming on the bus? Do they need a seat?). Having originally been interested in the interaction between humans, their environments and non-human things, I came to realize in the course of my observation that the different seating sections of the bus transformed passenger experience and produced distinct social codes. I subsequently started taking down notes during times when I rode the bus, which usually lasted for 10-15 minute intervals.
This ethnographic experiment takes place in a library. I chose this site because it is a public setting that welcomes everyone, yet where people come for a limited number of reasons. Typically, library visits carry a particular set of connotations: reading, books, studying, and deep silence. Although many of these elements were present during my observations at this particular branch, I discovered more use of technology among the patrons than I had expected to find, combined with an enduring respect for the tradition of reading. For the first version of my ethnographic description, I wanted to look at the library as a character in itself, shaped both by the people who visit and the physical aspects of the building, space and environment, that make the library what it is.
On October 26th, I had the chance to travel with one of my close friends to a Hillary Clinton rally. I thought it would be a good location to conduct my ethnographic experiment on the social phenomena of American politics. As a Canadian, I was baffled by the long lines, the various behaviours, and the overall commotion that was happening in front of me. I was not used to this phenomenon since Canadian elections never last this long, and we tend to keep it more low key. In the following two descriptions, I will start by describing the area we were in, what was happening and who was there. I will then elaborate on my own experience as a participant observer, but also an outsider to this cultural phenomenon.
For my “ethnographic experiments” assignment, I chose to conduct my observation exercise at a local coffee shop. I selected this site because I wished to observe a diverse group of people in a confined, vibrant space that offers a unique and appealing sensory experience. I felt that selecting an environment that is entirely new, and relatively unfamiliar would allow me to construct an ethnographic description that did not rely on past experiences and assumptions. My only previous notions about this cafe were based on friends’ rarely shared anecdotes; I do not know anyone who is a regular customer of this company. While I do frequently visit coffee shops, as well as work as a barista, this café attracted me because it is a part of a chain that focuses heavily on environmental issues and seeks to support local, small-scale farmers. I assume that this brand also therefore attracts customers who appreciate these specific values.
In the mini-ethnographies below, I attempt to detail my observations based on minor fieldwork experiments concerning the Asian-Canadian food culture, and the economy that surrounds it. In the first mini-ethnography, I take an ethnographic vignette approach to discuss my experience at a Japanese all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant. By using suggestive descriptors and accentuating the details of the setting, I hope to create in the reader a desire to question the normalcy of the events. In the second mini-ethnography, my approach leans more towards sensorial description, blended with a thick description of my field-notes and an ethnographic portrait (although a “snapshot” may be the more appropriate term due to the brevity of the encounter). In this way, I am taking a more intentionally subjective perspective on the goings-on in the restaurant, and in doing so, hoping to elicit empathy in the readers, so that they may follow me in my observations and my questioning of the setting.
I chose to do my ethnographic exercise at a food court in a mall because I initially wanted to better understand human interactions with nourishment and food. However, in the course of my observation, I noticed that people eating in the food court, were less focused on food than on technology, including phones, laptops, tablets etc. I subsequently became interested in the role of this technology in this setting and the way it was affecting social interaction. After observing for two hours, it became very clear to me that there was a distinct difference between how people interacted with other customers at the food court, and how they interacted with the staff who cleaned and cleared away dishes. Thanks to my observations, I came to see the food court as its own micro society. The food court is a stage where larger social dynamics play out, but it also has it’s own, more specific social rules and norms. It is these rules and interactions of the micro-society that I want to focus on in my analysis.
The mall is a place full of “hustle and bustle” during this time of the year. I have found refuge from the stressed-out Christmas shoppers in a coffee shop. I went on the day of the first real snowfall of the season, and thus the shop was quite busy, filled with people looking for hot drinks as a way of escaping the cold. At the first glance, the lineup to get a drink was short, but then, the person ahead of me ordered four complicated drinks and so my single drink took about 15 minutes. The baristas were kind. The seating was adequate for a store in a busy mall. It was hard to find a spot but a table cleared just as I needed it. I sat beside a man on a laptop and two women, one of which had a guide dog. The atmosphere of the shop was welcoming and comfortable; the music tasteful and the décor modern. The store also has a few festive decorations, mostly the colour red that this brand has become known for during this time of year. The people who enter the shop vary greatly. The average person seems to be between the ages of 18 – 40. For a Sunday afternoon, I was expecting to see more teenagers lounging around the mall.
The site where I have chosen to do my observation is a café on the university’s grounds. I chose this specific place because I know that it is active; students are constantly coming in and out, therefore I thought it would be interesting to see the dynamics of the space and social interaction. I also chose this site because I knew I could easily sit there for two hours and observe, while not bringing attention to myself or making people suspicious of what I was doing. The first ethnography I will do is a thick description, which focuses on the behaviours I observed within the context of the café. The second will be a sensorial description in which I attempt to transport the readers to the café by appealing to their senses.
For the observation portion of this assignment, my sites of choice are the two student lounges on the university campus. My reasoning behind this selection was that I would be able to observe a continuous flow of people, and perhaps even discover some unpronounced patterns or tacit cultural practices. For both of the mini-ethnographies presented below, I have attempted to create complementary and somewhat contrasting descriptions of the recorded field notes. The first ethnography emphasizes personal impressions and reflections and contains a relatively quieter sarcastic tone. The second tends more to an analytical perspective, and is prominently sarcastic.
For this assignment, I have chosen to observe people in the Napoleon exhibition at the Museum of History. I chose this site out of convenience, since I was already visiting the museum for my archaeology class. Also, I was planning to see the exhibition at one point so I figured this was the perfect opportunity. I also thought that the space could offer some interesting observations given that museums are visited by tourists from all around the world and locals like me. I am interested in the dynamics of the space and how the space itself affects how people interact with each other. For the first ethnography, I have chosen to take a narrative tone in order to illustrate the space in a chronological manner. I also focus on the bits of conversations I overheard and the ways in which people interacted in the space. For the second ethnography, I have chosen to take a sensorial approach. This should provide the audience with an overall feel of the place as if one was actually experiencing it. I describe the ambiance through different senses.
For my assignment, I did my observations in a campus café, located in one of the university buildings. It was not my initial intention to take my field-notes at this site: once I started paying attention to my surroundings, suddenly the mundane became interesting. This location was ideal because the demographic is diverse—i.e., professors, students, various university staff members, etc. Both diversity of the café’s patrons as well as the locale’s vibrancy made it ideal for observing people as they go about their day, whether by catching up on studies, or by catching up with friends.
For this exercise, I decided to observe people in an art museum. I was hoping to study the way people engage with art and the physical space of the gallery. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I went there on a Thursday afternoon, at a time when the gallery had very few visitors. This impacted my observations and is reflected in my writing. In my first stylistic approach, I attempted a heavily reflexive style that emphasized the anxiety and boredom that I felt while conducting ethnographic observation in such a quiet and empty gallery. The piece is written following a chronological timeline and reflects my entire experience at the gallery. It is also an attempt at a more poetic style with a story arc that has an ironic end. My second stylistic approach is, by contrast, entirely void of reflexivity as well as of a chronological timeline. It is an amalgamation of similar observations clustered into paragraphs.
The site I used for this assignment was a suburban house party in Ottawa. It was a birthday party for a twenty-something year old who invited many friends over to celebrate on the weekend. I chose this site in an attempt to make the “familiar strange” since as a university student, house parties are not foreign to me. I thought it would be interesting to see what I could find in a ritual that many young people participate in. What I ended up writing was interesting to me; it gave me a new perspective on something I already thought I knew.
I first chose to represent my data through an ethnographic narrative. The narrative is made up of a series of observations that give an account of what takes place during a night at a party. This style of presenting my data allowed my ethnographic description to be open and versatile, and more inclusive of the perspectives that were not my own. The paper really highlights my own style of writing and my voice, while sharing the ethnographic observations in an easy-to-read format. I chose to do more of a “raw field note approach” in the second essay. Here I wanted to show the analytical aspects of the exercise, rather than first person description. The two approaches together gave me a better understanding of ethnographic texts, while also leaving room to experiment. The assignment helped me understand the importance of tone to the ethnography, and the challenges faced by anthropologists, in describing and analyzing their observations.
The following observations were made in a Black hair salon in Ottawa. The name of the salon, the owner and the visitors’ identities will not be revealed to preserve confidentiality. The following site was chosen because it is located very close to downtown Ottawa, and because it is surrounded by diverse commercial establishments owned by business people of different ethnicities (i.e. Irish, Somali, Thai and Lebanese). In the following essays, I present two different ethnographic accounts. The first one takes a descriptive approach in the form narrative analysis. It gives an account of the daily life of a Black hairdresser working in a Black hair salon, and pays special attention to the facial expressions and the emotions felt. I took an analytical approach in the second essay, in an attempt to achieve “thick description” of this particular context.