Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2019

Experimental Ethnography: Designs, Tactics, Collaborations

Professor Kim Fortun, Department of Anthropology, University of California Irvine, USA

Course dates: 29 July - 2 August 2019

Limitation: 25 participants

Main disciplines: Social Anthropology, Ethnography

Course credits: 8 ECTS

Apply now

Objectives and learning outcome
This course is a theoretically animated, hands-on exploration of experimental ethnography -- as an ethos, practice, and mode of expression.  Lectures will set students up to move through a series of “sketches” through which they work out different ways of setting up ethnographic projects, collecting, analyzing and interpreting data, and moving from ethnography to theory and back.  Students will also learn about technical tools that support ethnographic research, enabling collaboration among ethnographers and with researchers in other fields.  The course will help students think about the tactics, promise and limits of ethnographic research, and about different ways ethnography can be designed and carried out. 

The course will tune ethnography to “late industrialism,” drawing out increasingly intense interaction across scales (local to planetary) and systems (eco-atmospheric, technoscientific, sociocultural, political, economic, discursive and educational).  These interactions produce new vulnerabilities and injustices, and call for new forms of expertise and  governance.  They also call for inventive, collaborative ethnography, new data practices and infrastructure, and critical engagements with the promise and politics of open science.

The course extends from long-running  effort, experimental in tenor, to integrate new technologies and media into the work of Writing Culture.   Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead’s stunning work with photography – as both a research tool and means of conveying their analysis -- is one point of reference.    The history of filmmaking in the conduct and expression of cultural analysis has also been important, generating methodological questioning and innovation, and a body of work that literally provides multiple angles on matters of concern.  Digital tools and modes of presentation extend these threads and enable still other possibilities for students in the course to explore.  One work site will be the Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography.

The course includes twenty, one-hour lecture/discussion segments over five days. Students will have the option to write a paper made up of a series of ethnographic sketches based on their own research material.  In advance of the course, students should closely read at least three ethnographic monographs, and the articles and project descriptions listed below.

Lecture Topics and Schedule  (with more detailed descriptions below)

Day 1

  • Experiments in Ethnography
  • Figuring Out Ethnography
  • Tuning Ethnography
  • Tuning the Ethnographer

Day 2

  • Collaboration in/as Ethnographic Experiment
  • Computers in Ethnography
  • Ethnographic “Data Types”
  • Data Ethnography

Day 3

  • Field Notes, Unstructured and Structured
  • Temporalizing, Analyzing, Interpreting, Theorizing
  • Visualization in Ethnography
  • Writing Ethnography

Day 4

  • Data Ethics and Governance
  • Creative Data Management
  • (Re)Purposing Ethnographic Data
  • Publishing Futures

Day 5

  • Designing Ethnographic Projects
  • Educating For/With Ethnography
  • Relaying Ethnography
  • Ethnography in Late Industrialism


Day 1

Experiments in Ethnography

In this session, we’ll examine various calls to experimentalism in the sciences, arts, and critical social theory, then explore various experimental ventures in anthropology, including the work of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, Writing Culture, and the Platform for Experimental, Collaborative Ethnography.


  • Clifford, James. 1981. “On Ethnographic Surrealism,”  Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 23, No. 4. (Oct., 1981), pp. 539-564.
  • *Fortun, Kim. 2010. “Of Writing Culture, 2020,” Foreword to the 25th anniversary edition of Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James Clifford and George Marcus. University of California Press (original publication 1986).
  • Fortun, Kim and Mike Fortun. 2010. “Introduction,” Major Works in Cultural Anthropology, Vol 1-4: Moorings, Modernities, Emergence, Engagements, edited by Kim Fortun and Mike Fortun. Sage.
  • Rheinberger, Hans-Jorg. 1998. “Experimental Systems, Graphematic Spaces,”  Inscribing Science: Scientific Texts and the Materiality of Communication.  Edited by Timothy Lenoir. Stanford University Press.
  • Rheinberger, Hans-Jorg. 1992. “Experimental Systems: Difference, Graphematicity, Conjuncture” translated from from  Experiment-Differenz-Schrift. Zur Geschichte epistemischer Dinge (Experiment-Difference-Writing. On the History of Epistemic Things), Marburg an der Lahn: Basilisken-Presse.


Figuring out Ethnography

In this session, we’ll explore tactics that keep ethnographic research design and practice open, yet lightly structured by prior knowledge, theory and “design logics.” 


  • Fortun, Kim. 2009. “Figuring Out Ethnography” in Fieldwork Is Not What It Used To Be: Learning Anthropology's Method in a Time of Transition, edited by James D. Faubion and George E. Marcus. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 

Tuning Ethnography

In this session, we’ll explore ways ethnography can be tuned to contemporary conditions, attentive to the dynamics, injustices and governance challenge of increasingly intense interaction across scales (local to planetary) and systems (eco-atmospheric, technoscientific, sociocultural, political, economic, discursive and educational).


  • Fortun, Kim. 2012. “Ethnography in Late Industrialism,” Cultural Anthropology 27/3, pp. 446–464.
  • Agard-Jones, Vanessa. 2013. “Bodies in the System” Small Axe 17, no. 3: 182–92. https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-2378991

Tuning the Ethnographer

This session will focus on ways ethnographers can leverage their own histories and subject positions as method.


  • Jakobson, Roman. 1956. Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances. On Language. 
  • Keller, Evelyn 1985. “Dynamic Objectivity,” Reflections on Gender and Science.

Day 2

Collaboration in/as Ethnographic Experiment

This session will explore the history, purpose and challenge of collaboration in ethnography.


Computers in Ethnography

This session will explore how digital structures implicate ethnographic practice, knowledge production and expression.


  • Collins, Samuel. Matthew Durington, Harjant Gill. 2017. “Multimodality: An Invitation,” American Anthropologist. Volume119, Issue1. p142-146. March.
  • Fortun, Kim. 2014. From Latour to Late Industrialism. “From Latour to Late Industrialism,” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory. 4/1. p309-329.
  • Keane, Webb. 2018. “On Semiotic Ideology.” Signs and Society 6 (1): 64–87. https://doi.org/10.1086/695387.
  • Fortun, Mike, Kim Fortun and George Marcus. 2017. “Computers in/and Anthropology: The Poetics and Politics of Digitization,” Routledge Companion to Digital Ethnography.
  • Drucker, Johanna, and Patrik BO Svensson. 2016. “The Why and How of Middleware.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 010 (2). http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/10/2/000248/000248.html

Ethnographic “Data Types”

This session will suggest ways of representing and expanding the data types used in ethnography, encouraging experiments with various kinds of borrowed data, including “big data.”


- to be announced

Data Ethnography

This session will be a walk through “data ethnography,” showing how data infrastructure, practice and cultures can be participant-observed.


  • Fortun, Kim. 2012. “Biopolitics and the Informating of Environmentalism” in Lively Capital: Biotechnologies, Ethics, and Governance in Global Markets, edited by Kaushik Sunder Rajan. Duke University Press.


Day 3

Field Notes, Unstructured and Structured

This session will explore tactics for ethnographic observation that are open yet analytic and oriented by research questions.


  • De Lauretis, Teresa. 1987. “The Technology of Gender,”  Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film and Fiction. Indiana University Press.

Temporalizing, Analyzing, Interpreting, Theorizing

This session will focus on how and why ethnography should be intricately temporalized, and on ways ethnographic projects can be designed to move from empirical engagements to theory and back. 


  • Fortun, Kim. 2016. “Theory in Teaching Ethnography,” Theory Can Be More Than It Used to Be: Learning Anthropology’s Method in a Time of Transition edited by Dominic Boyer, James Faubian and George Marcus.  Cornell University Press.
  • Foucault, “Subjectivity and Truth,”  “Hermeneutic of the Subject,”  and “On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress.” in Michel Foucault: Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth edited by Paul Rabinow. The Essential Works of Michel Foucault 1954-84. Vol 1. New York: New Press. 1994.
  • Ong, Aihwa  'The Gender and Labor Politics of Postmodernity', Annual Review of Anthropology 20: 279-309.
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (1988) 'Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography', in R; Spivak Guha, G.C. (ed), Selected Subaltern Studies (New York: Oxford University Press).
  • Hall, Stuart  '“Gramsci’s Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity,”  Journal of Communication Inquiry 10: 5-27.
  • Davis, Heather, and Zoe Todd. 2017. “On the Importance of a Date, or, Decolonizing the Anthropocene.” ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 16 (4): 761–80.

Visualization in Ethnography

In this session, we’ll explore when and how visualizations of different kinds (found and created by ethnographers), using different kinds of material and data, can animate ethnographic analysis,  collaboration, and expression of research results.


Writing Ethnography

In this session, we’ll consider the purpose and distinctiveness of ethnographic  writing, and what it can become when digitized.  


  • Clifford, J. 1986.  “Ethnographic Allegory,” in James Clifford; George Marcus (ed), Writing Culture: The Politics and Poetics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press..
  • Fortun, Kim. 2009. “essential2life,” Dialectical Anthropology. Special issue, “Corporate Oxymorons” edited by Stuart Kirsch and Peter Benson.  Vol 34/1. p77-86.

Day 4

Data Ethics and Governance

This session focuses on debates about open research data, examining technical, political and methodological implications, especially for ethnographers.  


  • Corsín Jiménez, Alberto. 2018. A Data Governance Framework for Ethnography v. 1.0. Spanish National Research Council. November. http://digital.csic.es/bitstream/10261/172227/3/data%20governance%20framework%20181115.pdf
  • Murillo, Luis Felipe Rosado “What Does ‘Open Data’ Mean for Ethnographic Research?,” American Anthropologist 120, no. 3 (September 1, 2018): 580, https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.13088. 
  • Pels, Peter and Boog, Igor and Henrike Florusbosch, J. and Kripe, Zane and Minter, Tessa and Postma, Metje and Sleeboom-Faulkner, Margaret and Simpson, Bob and Dilger, Hansjorg and Schonhuth, Michael and von Poser, Anita and Castillo, Rosa Cordillera A. and Lederman, Rena and Richards-Rissetto, Heather. 2018.  “Data Management in Anthropology : The Next Phase in Ethics Governance?,”  Social Anthropology. 26 (3). p. 391-413.
  • Social Science Research Council. “To Secure Knowledge.” n.d. To Secure Knowledge. Accessed September 18, 2018. https://www.ssrc.org/to-secure-knowledge.

Creative Data Management

This session will focus on ways ethnographic data management can be creative, stimulating new ways of thinking about data collection, analysis, preservation and discoverability.


  • Plantin, Jean-Christophe, Carl Lagoze, and Paul N Edwards. 2018. “Re-Integrating Scholarly Infrastructure: The Ambiguous Role of Data Sharing Platforms.” Big Data & Society 5 (1): 2053951718756683. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951718756683.
  • Tsai, Alexander C., Brandon A. Kohrt, Lynn T. Matthews, Theresa S. Betancourt, Jooyoung K. Lee, Andrew V. Papachristos, Sheri D. Weiser, and Shari L. Dworkin. 2016. “Promises and Pitfalls of Data Sharing in Qualitative Research.” Social Science & Medicine (1982) 169 (November): 191–98. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.08.004.
  • Bishop, Libby, and Arja Kuula-Luumi. 2017. “Revisiting Qualitative Data Reuse: A Decade On.” SAGE Open 7 (1): 2158244016685136. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244016685136.
  • Feldman, Shelley and Linda Shaw. 2018. “The Epistemological and Ethical Challenges of Archiving and Sharing Qualitative Data,” American Behavioral Scientist. Accessed September 15, 2018.

(Re)Purposing Ethnographic Data

This session will explore tactics for engaging ethnographic data (found and original), and ways hermeneutic sensibilities  can undergird the building of research commons.


  • Crowder, Jerome W. 2017. “Visualizing Tensions in an Ethnographic Moment: Images and Intersubjectivity.” Medical Anthropology, June. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01459740.2017.1315572.
  • Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, Florence. 2016. “New Perspectives From Unstructured Interviews: Young Women, Gender, and Sexuality on the Isle of Sheppey in 1980.” SAGE Open 6 (4): 2158244016679474. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244016679474.

Publishing Futures

This session will examine the future of scholarly communications and publishing, highlighting  the experimental importance of inventive forms of publishing.


- to be announced


Day 5

Designing Ethnographic Projects

This session will explore how the genre of the research proposal works, and can be designed for experimental ends.


  • Fortun, Kim. 2009. “Scaling and Visualizing Multi-sited Ethnography” in Multi-sited Ethnography: Theory, Praxis and Locality in Contemporary Research, edited by Mark Falzon. London: Ashgate.
  • Marcus, George (1995) 'Ethnography In/Out of the World System: The Emergence of Multisited Ethnography', Annual Review of Anthropology 24: 95-117.

Educating For/With Ethnography

This session will explore ways students (of all ages) can be brought into ethnographic projects, learning ethnographic “thought styles” and attunements. 


  • Fortun, Kim, Lindsay Poirier, Brandon Costelloe-Kuehn, Alli Morgan and Mike Fortun. 2016. “PushBack: Critical Data Designers and Pollution Politics.”  Big Data and Society.
  • Dumit, Joseph. "Writing the Implosion: Teaching the World One Thing at a Time." Cultural Anthropology 29, no. 2 (2014): 344–362. https://doi.org/10.14506/ca29.2.09

Relaying Ethnography

This session will explore how ethnographic knowledge and genre forms can be moved beyond anthropological circles and the university, into myriad public spaces and problem domains.


Ethnography in Late Industrialism

This session will return to the special challenges and promises of ethnography in late industrialism.


The lecturer
Kim Fortun is a Professor and Department Chair in the University of California Irvine’s Department of Anthropology.  Her research and teaching focus on environmental risk and disaster, and on experimental ethnographic methods and research design.  Her research has examined how people in different geographic and organizational contexts understand environmental problems, uneven distributions of environmental health risks, developments in the environmental health sciences, and factors that contribute to disaster vulnerability.  Fortun’s book Advocacy After Bhopal Environmentalism, Disaster, New World Orders was awarded the 2003 Sharon Stephens Prize by the American Ethnological Society.  From 2005-2010, Fortun co-edited the Journal of Cultural Anthropology.

Currently, Fortun is working on a book titled Late Industrialism: Making Environmental Sense, on The Asthma Files, a collaborative project to understand how air pollution and environmental public health are dealt with in different contexts, and on design of the Platform for Experimental and Collaborative Ethnography (PECE), an open source/access digital platform for anthropological and historical research.  Fortun also runs the EcoEd Research Group, which turns ethnographic findings about environmental problems into curriculum for students (kindergarten through professional), and is helping organize both the Disaster-STS Research Network, and the Digital Practices in History and Ethnography Interest Group in the Research Data Alliance. 

Fortun co-edits a book series for University of Pennsylvania Press titled Critical Studies in Risk and Disaster, designed to connect academic research to public problems and policy, reaching audiences in different regions of the world.  September 2017 through August 2019, Fortun will serve as President of the Society for Social Studies of Science, the international scholarly society representing the field of Science and Technology Studies.

Tags: Social Anthropology, Ethnography, Oslo Summer School, PhD
Published Oct. 24, 2018 10:20 AM - Last modified May 7, 2019 1:28 PM