An Ethnographer’s Dream

Walking through Manchester Amanda and I came across Magma Design, a bookstore I wanted to take home with me. Unable to do so, I settled for purchasing two books. One I gave away as a gift. The other was much too coveted to part with. I tore through it on the plane. (Actually I’m writing this on the plane.) That book changed this class and EVERY class I will ever each in the future.

How to be an Explorer of the World is an ethnographer’s dream come true.

So how does one dream? Freely and with our senses unhinged. In our dreams we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch without reservation. In her book, How to be an Explorer of the World, Keri Smith (who, by the way, is an artist) implores use to be uninhibited and free while awake. Harnessing an uninhibited sense of wonder and using her book as a guide, one is bound to experience the world in ways that cultivate inspiration and insight as never before.

Like the exercises at the back of my book, Teaching Advertising Creative, make copywriting come to life, the exercises in Smith’s book make ethnography come to life. (Even if she is an artist. Or maybe because she is an artist.) Her “One Thing” exercise is a twist on my cultural collage. “Fifty Things” encourages explores to document 50 things on what might otherwise be a mundane trip to the grocery store or library. Or how about her “Sound Map,” which challenges you to sit in one place for an hour and map out every sound, marking the approximate location relative to yourself? Follow that up with “Found Smells” by going for a walk and sniffing every smell and identifying its source. Then there’s “Your Favorite Street.” Imagine sending people into the field to describe every detail of their favorite street. And for my copywriters, there’s “Found Words.” Be a voyeur and sit in close proximity to your target audience and eavesdrop. Collect every gem they utter. My personal favorite, and the perfect way to bond a new group of ethnographers, is “Self Ethnography.” Use yourself as the subject and document all your movements, activities, behaviors, and conversations through the course of one day, then report back. And at the end of the book there’s a spot for field notes. It’s the best hands-on, inspiration driven idea book I’ve laid my hands on.

And so dear students I will be enlivening our cultural explorations and tweaking the blogs posting assignments. How could I not?

Look out Prague. Here we come!




Filed under Ethnography, Teaching

2 responses to “An Ethnographer’s Dream

  1. Prof Pisarski

    I will have to search out a copy of this book!

  2. Debra Krajec

    Jean –

    It sounds like youa re having a great experience. Hope to hear more details.

    And thanks for sharing the book title – I’m going it to order it!


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