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Tell me a story...: An analysis of qualitative data

Emma Young and Ryan Schram

Due April 3 at 5:00 p.m.
Length 1000 words
Weight 20%

At the end of our module on fieldwork and ethnographic analysis, we want you to experiment with analyzing the kinds of empirical material that ethnographers work with. Originally we planned for you to make your own observations of other people's behavior in public (e.g. at the store, on the bus, on the sidewalk, in the library, etc.) and then write a description and analysis of a public setting as a social institution in which people play specific roles. This is more difficult now because people have been asked to become more conscious of their public behavior and deliberately modify how they act in public. We still want to see how well you can make use of the “ethnographic imagination” that anthropologists use (Willis 2013).

We want you to experiment with another of the methods used by anthropologists: unstructured interviews. Ask someone you know reasonably well if you can ask them some questions. A good person to ask would be an adult relative or someone in your family who is not in the same age group as you (for instance, a parent, aunt, uncle, or adult sibling or cousin). Ask them to tell you stories about things that they remember from personal experience.

You can interview your chosen family member in person, over the phone, or using Skype, etc. Your tutor will post general advice on how to conduct an interview, but in anthropology the procedure is not really that complicated. Less is more. Let them talk. As anthropologist Danilyn Rutherford says, “An anthropologist's job is to be interested in what the people around her are interested in” (Rutherford 2003, xviii). Briefly, to prepare for the interview you should have a few questions already written down about the kinds of stories that you know your interview subject likes to tell, but would mainly let your interviewee do the talking. You want to give them an opening to tell a story from beginning to end, that is, as a complete, continuous narrative. Then you'll write a description and analysis of the narrative drawn from your interview.

Your 1,000-word report will analyse the narrative from your interview by drawing attention to and explaining the tacit rules and norms it uncovers. Just like Richard Lee (1969) needed the help of a few friendly fieldwork informants to understand the situation that unfolded when he bought the Christmas ox for his !Kung friends, you'll be drawing on your cultural knowledge to unpack the narrative shared by your informant, so that your reader (that is, your tutor) will understand the cultural norms and practices which the storyteller assumes that a listener would already know. Imagine that your tutor is “from outer space” and doesn't know anything about the storyteller's culture. What would your tutor need to know to understand the point of the narrative, that is, why it is a meaningful, interesting, valuable story? You need to explicate the cultural perspective in which this story is worth telling, or what makes it tellable (Sacks 1995). Your paper should not only summarize the narrative, but build a bridge between the storyteller's emic description of events and the etic description which the alien from outer space would be able to grasp. We encourage you to draw on readings from Module 1 and Module 2 of this course, as well as lectures, to help you unpack the interview narrative.

Grading criteria

  • Have you summarized and described a single story by your informant, the storyteller, in enough detail that the reader can understand what you want to say?
  • Have you identified several emic concepts which come from the storyteller's cultural worldview?
  • Have you explicated the emic concepts and the emic perspective in etic terms so that the reader can see and understand the world from the perspective of the storyteller?
  • Have you made your own claim about how the ethnographic analysis leads you to a larger conclusion about the values and worldview which the storyteller lives by?
  • When you draw upon ideas you find in published works, class lectures, and online notes, have you [cited these correctly][^cite] (as in this document) and listed the full reference for each source at the end of your paper?
  • Have you proofread your final draft for clarity, spelling, punctuation, and readability? Is your work [neatly presented][^style] in a document?


Lee, Richard Borshay. 1969. “Eating Christmas in the Kalahari.” Natural History, December 1969.

Rutherford, Danilyn. 2003. Raiding the Land of the Foreigners. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Sacks, Harvey. 1995. Lectures on Conversation. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444328301.

Willis, Paul. 2013. The Ethnographic Imagination. Malden, Mass.: John Wiley & Sons.

1001/2020/story_analysis.txt · Last modified: 2020/03/19 00:07 by Ryan Schram (admin)