Ethnographic Essay about : Dementia-Near-Death and ‘Life Itself’.

You will have to write a 7-page essay for this course. You can pick any of the class topics and research them in-depth, including research in the library and on the Internet, going beyond class readings; observation or sometimes participant observation of the institution, phenomenon, event or subculture you chose to study; and informal interviewing of the participants and people related to your point of interest. All of your research activities, including interviews, can be done remotely. Some of the institutions you might want to research are: adult day care centers; nursing homes; active lifestyle communities for the aging; hospitals and community health centers; hospice facilities; offices or homes of the local healers, etc. Some of the phenomena you might consider for your project are presentation of older women’s and men’s health and body image on TV, in the movies, in street advertisement, in magazines and newspapers. Some of the events to look at are rites of passage (anniversaries, retirement procedures, death and burial preparations and medical care of the dying); the medical treatment of elderly people and the narratives they and their caregivers have to tell; the relocation of the elderly into a community for the older people or into a nursing home. Some of the subcultures that might be of interest to you include community support groups for the elderly; chronically ill people’s communities centered around a particular illness; interest groups and classes for the elderly organized at local library branches and community centers. You could also observe and theorize the construction and framing of aging at your own workplace, among your relatives and friends, as well as in online communities and social networks on the Web. Your task is to research and report how exactly the ideas and beliefs about aging are constructed, reproduced and consumed within your chosen setting. Pay close attention to language and metaphors as well as to the details of visual representation (style, color, composition, cultural references). Try to understand how ideas and practices of aging are being constructed and reproduced. How do the participants interpret these patterns? What kind of meanings do they ascribe to their behaviors? What kind of roles do they play in the process, what kind of identities do they acquire and stick to, what kind of narratives do they create and why precisely these and not others? Why are these patterns and narratives considered to be important? What social needs do they serve.
Essays must be double-spaced, have normal margins and be properly, consistently referenced. See for an American Anthropological Association (AAA) style citation guide (based on the Chicago Manual of Style).

Additional instruction:

First of all, you need to set goals and proceed from there. You need to write a short research proposal that would explain to yourself, the people interviewed and your potential audience, what kind of things you want to find out. What kind of social issues are at the core of the project? Try just to sit down and reflect. A good idea would be to start with looking at other people’s ethnographies as a model. Please visit college library (you can do it remotely) or conduct a research on the Web.

When you know what you want to find out (and maybe you already have preliminary hypotheses, that you’d like to test), think about the best possible methods to get the information. What kind of observations would be helpful? What will you be paying attention to? When, where, whom and in what circumstances would it be useful to observe?

In terms of interviewing, how is it better to organize the meetings and conversations? Do you want to get short answers to structured questions, or you would rather sacrifice numbers and exact answers for the sake of listening to what people are willing to tell about themselves in the order they feel comfortable with? Do you want to interview them one on one or in groups? The interviews can be arranged remotely.

As you will better understand the objectives of your project you will be able to compile a list of relevant interview questions. Every question should have a purpose and bring you closer to the understanding of things you want to know. Please note that sometimes you can’t get a direct answer to a direct question like: “what kind of stereotypes or superstitions do you practice?” This is a matter of explicit and tacit knowledge. Of course, you will get a bunch of ideas and images that your informants themselves perceive as stereotypes. But the info about the most stereotypes they acquired is accessible only indirectly, through listening to them and recognizing those stereotypes being implicitly reproduced in their reflections and judgments. This is because they themselves don’t notice them and recognize them as stereotypes. This kind of attitude is called “misrecognition” in social sciences. You need to find those out yourself through analysis of the narratives they are used to tell in this particular subculture, or their specific “discourse” (way of interpretation and talking).

Going beyond interviewing, what kind of material objects (cultural artifacts) and virtual media sources can provide valuable information that would enrich your understanding of the problem? Do you need any additional external information on these resources that would help you to successfully interpret the messages they send? (For example, information about a particular media source in terms of their ideological legacy and the audience they serve).

Think of the objectives, the materials, the methods, and the already existing literature on the topic. And please make sure to include the timing of each work stage into your plan not to miss any deadlines and to submit your work on time.


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