In December 1959, filmmaker Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin were jurors at the first international festival of ethnographic film in Florence. At the time, Rouch was well known for his previous films on ritual possession and migration amongst West Africans. According to Rouch, he received a pointed query from his fellow juror—“…Morin said to me, ‘Jean, you have made all your films abroad; do you know anything about contemporary France?’ He said that I should turn my gaze onto the Parisians and do anthropological research about my own tribe.” This course takes up that challenge posed by Morin. We will peer behind conventional understandings of what America is—and isn’t—in order to better grasp the situated histories, places, beliefs, institutions, narratives and cultures that shape American social life. Contrary to received wisdom that anthropological research in and on the United States is new or of recent origin, we will trace a differing set of ethnographic legacies through the work of key figures as we gaze back in time, looking at earlier representations in mapping the histories of the present. We will begin with important analyses of American society writ large before cutting the country down to size as it were through the work of Susan Harding, Philippe Bourgois, Aihwa Ong, Kath Weston and other scholars. Guiding questions animating our conversations will include—What is American culture? Where is it located? Who are its actors? And how does one go about studying it ethnographically? Everyone will add their own visions and voices to the ethnographic mix as we creatively unpack the United States via lectures, readings, films and writing.


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