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Course Information

Instructor Info:Kimberly Chang
Office Extension x5668
TA Info:Suyeon Min
Term: 2014S
Meeting Info: Tuesday Thursday
02:00 PM - 03:20 PM Cole Science Center 101
02:00 PM - 03:20 PM Cole Science Center 101

In this course, we will use the method of critical ethnography to explore food as a system that connects individuals and communities, locally and globally. Students will carry out a multi-sited ethnographic research project that begins with a question about food, whether about production and consumption, identity and belonging, health and environment, memory and desire, community and activism. Students will "follow the food" wherever their questions take them-from table to market to factory to farm-and be guided through the process of posing ethnographic questions, conducting fieldwork and interviews, writing fieldnotes and other forms of ethnographic documentation, and engaging throughout in the critical, reflexive act of interpretation and writing. As part of the Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment, this year we will focus as a class on following the "Chinese food" as it connects consumers and producers, individuals and communities, from Western Mass to Boston to China.

Prerequisite: Students should enter this course with a viable research project in mind and ready to begin fieldwork by the third week. In this course, students are expected to spend 8-10 hours a week of preparation and work outside of class time.  In addition to reading assignments, this time includes weekly fieldwork, conducting and transcribing interviews, and writing fieldnotes, memos, and other forms of ethnographic documentation.

Course Objectives:


1.     To carry out a multi-sited ethnographic research project that explores the cultural politics of Chinese food within and across individuals and communities.

2.     To gain first-hand, in-depth understanding of the theory, methods, and ethics of critical ethnography as a form of participatory research.

3.     To become familiar with some of the burgeoning literature in the interdisciplinary field of food studies, particularly as it relates to your own evolving Division II interests and questions.

4.     To write a food ethnography that is descriptive, reflexive, and interpretive in its efforts to “start where you’re at,” “follow the food,” and trace relations among divergent lives, livelihoods, and landscapes.

5.     To encourage and support students interested in developing projects that follow foodways between the U.S. and China.

Evaluation Criteria:


1.     Attendance—A class is a community of learners, with attendance a measure of your commitment to this community and to your own learning.  With the exception of serious illness or family emergency, every student is expected to be present at every class.  If you are unable to attend class due to illness or emergency, please email me within 24 hours of your absence.  Students with more than three absences will not receive an evaluation.

2.     Readings/Discussion: This course is designed as a seminar in which your preparation for and participation in class is essential to the learning experience.  Please come to class on time and prepared to discuss the assigned readings, particularly as these relate to your own ethnographic research projects.  As you read, try to get in the habit of writing down questions, comments, and/or interesting or provocative passages through which you can contribute to class discussions.  If you tend to be quiet in class, experiment with formulating one comment or question per class.  If you are talkative, be mindful of your own participation in relation to others.  Let’s all try to be respectful of the different kinds of experience and knowledge we each bring into the classroom, listening and responding to one another in ways that will deepen the learning experience for all!

3.     Ethnographic Research Project: The major requirement for this course is to carry out a small-scale ethnographic research project that begins with a question about Chinese food.  Choose a project that starts where you’re at—i.e., with your own queries and quandaries regarding Chinese food at the tables and in the communities where you live and eat.  This should be a viable project to which you can devote roughly 2-3 hours of fieldwork per week and complete within the course of one semester.  By Feb. 11 you should submit a 3-page proposal in which you state: (1) your starting questions regarding the Chinese food-related questions or problems that your project will explore, (2) why these questions or problems matter to you (i.e., what prior knowledge and assumptions bring you into this project), (3) the particular people, communities, and/or places where you will begin your research, and (4) your ethical concerns about this research and how you will obtain informed consent.

4.     Fieldwork/Fieldnotes: Thereafter, you should engage in roughly 2-3 hours/week of fieldwork—including participant observation, interviewing, and other forms of participatory research—and keep weekly fieldnotes, analytic memos, interview transcripts, and any other forms of ethnographic documentation.  These should be rich in description, reflexive about your own evolving roles and relationships in the field, and increasingly analytical (this will help you when it comes time to write the final paper).  Roughly every two weeks (see syllabus for due dates), you will submit your fieldnotes/memos to me and/or bring copies to class to workshop.  Please type and double-space all fieldnotes and memos.  Also, please note that even if your project is based primarily on interviews, you should treat each interview as an occasion for participant observation by documenting and reflecting on those conversations in your fieldnotes.

5.     Annotated Bibliography: At some point into your fieldwork, as questions and themes begin to emerge, it is helpful to turn to other texts/authors who have done related research.  These may be useful in generating new questions or ideas, providing a theoretical framework, and/or serving as an example of a form of writing that you would like to emulate.  Toward this end, each student is required to compile and annotate a bibliography of at least six secondary sources (due: April 15).   Food & Foodways and Food, Culture, and Society are both excellent on-line journals for ethnographic research on food.  The following edited volumesare also rich sources of anthropological writing on food and will be on reserve at the library through the semester:

-Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader (Ku, Manalansan, & Mannur, 2013)
-Taking Food Public: Redefining Foodways in a Changing World (William-Forson & Counihan, 2012)
-Food and Culture: A Reader (Counihan & Van Esterik, 2008)
-The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating (J.L. Watson & M.L. Caldwell, 2005)

6.     Final Paper: A final paper (15-20 pages, due May 5) based on your fieldwork is due at the end of the semester.  The paper should be descriptive in its account of the people and places involved; interpretive in its attempt to understand and make sense of the central questions and issues of your research; and reflexive about the research process itself: i.e., where your journey began, what baggage you carried with you, how you made choices about where to go and what to ask, how your fieldwork relations led you in certain directions, and how you arrived at your final destination.  In other words, the paper should not only show what you learned, but how you learned it—i.e., the social processes through which knowledge is produced.  Students will present their projects in sensory form to the class during the final weeks of the semester.

7.     Note on learning and late work: Learning how to do ethnography is a hands-on, organic process that requires commitment to weekly fieldwork and writing in order to reap the fruits of this powerful way of knowing.  It is imperative that you keep up with the work and submit assignments on their due dates in order to receive timely feedback that will help you hone your ethnographic sensibilities and writing.  Late work will not be accepted unless you have spoken to me in advance with valid reason for requesting a brief extension. 

Additional Info:

Required Readings

The following required texts are available for purchase at the Hampshire College Bookstore as well as on reserve at the library:

Emerson, R.M., Fretz, R.I., & Shaw, L.L. (2011). Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. University of Chicago Press.

Lee, Jennifer 8. (2009). The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. NY: Twelve.

Narayan, Kirin. (2012). Alive in the Writing: Crafting Ethnography in the Company of Chekhov. University of Chicago Press.

All other readings for this course will be posted on the Moodle course web site.  Use your e-mail username and password to log in and download these readings.  Be sure to check the web site regularly for any changes or additions to the syllabus.  Important: Please come to class with the readings in hand to discuss, either hard copy or you may use your computer to view them.