The Results

The three groups produced some very interesting and unanticipated results. Because this event was experimental and exploratory in nature, none of the participants — including the facilitators — could predict what the end products would be. There was a bit of overlap between some of the groups in the details of their proposals, as well as a lot of differences. What became clear in the post-presentation discussion, however, is that all three groups, despite not talking much with each other about the progress of their work during the day, all ended up focusing on a broadly similar theme: developing various ways in which stakeholders who traditionally have little or no part in the production of ethnography — readers, informants, the public — can be brought into the process of crafting and meaningfully manipulating ethnographic materials.

  • Our first group, made up by Robbie Kett, Stevie Rea, and Beth Reddy, drew on the metaphor of a sound-mixing board, with which the intensity of different recorded tracks in a song can be increased or decreased with sliders and dials, to propose a system that allows different players to “mix” and “remix” ethnographic data in ways that fit their particular needs and contingencies, and left open various agendas that might be brought to the data.

Group 1

  • The second group, which included Marc DaCosta, Mark DuRocher, Ellie Harmon, and Janny Li, proposed constructing an interactive installation piece precisely within the confines of the homeless shelter studied by Desjarlais that would allow participants to experience first-hand (or at least approach experiencing first-hand) the kinds of experiences Desjarlais’s informants describe in the book, emphasizing movement through significant spaces like the streets, the shelter’s lobby, and inner areas of the shelter.

Group 2

  • In a similar vein, the third group, made up of Philip Grant, Sylvia Lindtner, Sean Mallin, and Taylor Nelms, developed an idea for an elaborate virtual reality system that can self-consciously simulate the events comprising the long days faced by the homeless, which Desjarlais so evocatively describes. Key to this was an attempt to create an infrastructure that allowed participants to experience first-hand the theoretical constructs Desjarlais used in his text.

Group 3

Indeed, not only do all of these ideas bring new collaborators and “producers” into the ethnographic process, but two of the proposals also work from and develop a strong emphasis on experience which Desjarlais himself uses as the theoretical framework in his text.

As we stated, this first ethnocharrette was entirely experimental in nature, a test-run of sorts to explore the possibilities for integrating design techniques into the teaching and conceiving and doing of ethnography. And as an experiment, it was quite successful. The anthropology students were able to approach familiar material in a very unfamiliar way, and in the process experience new ways of engaging creatively with ethnographic information, which, it is hoped, will be useful for confronting not only the published ethnographic work of others, but also their own data, methods, and forms of participation and representation.

Next >> Moving Forward