Photo by Rea Mucovic ©
Fieldschool for Ethnographic Sensibility is a 6 week, 6 credit undergraduate/graduate course University of Alberta Anthropology Department offers in Belgrade, Serbia. Belgrade will become your laboratory for developing ethnographic skills that attune you to the nonverbal, tacit underpinnings of every culture. We will encourage you to explore alternative and artistic forms of representation through writing, film, performance, and other arts in order to share your findings with others.
Hone your ethnographic sensibility in Belgrade through a series of playful field exercises that rely on different sensory modalities and embodied experience rather than on the knowledge of the local language. Break your perceptual habits and develop acute receptivity to the nuances of the ways people walk and argue, use things and spaces, organize their time, mix smells and tastes, sit at a table, or hail a taxi. Become a sensitive instrument for registering surprises, noting patterns in them, and transposing them into ethnographic writing, film, photography, sound, or performance. By adopting sensorium training methods developed in visual arts, performance, music and mindfulness you will learn to notice things like timing, rhythms of movement, and other patterns in the everyday urban life of which natives are usually not consciously aware. Simultaneously, you will start to become more aware of your own cultural patterning.
Fieldschool for Ethnographic Sensibility is aimed at anthropologists who want to develop their ethnographic sensibility with the particular focus on non-verbal, embodied patterns of everyday life, artists who want to explore the convergences between ethnographic and artistic training, and designers, architects, urban-planners and others interested in engaging with their practice in a culturally sensitive way.
Ethnographic sensibility is an ability to pay special attention to the minutiae of everyday life. How do people drink their coffee? How do people board public transportation and what is the code once inside? There is such a tendency to float through life without taking account of such small details. I’ve come to see that it is the mundane rather than the abstract that can tell us so very much about a specific culture. I think its important to step away from the familiar and study the foreign because in the process it can illuminate so much about one’s home.
Open your mind along with your senses and let everything flood in. This sensitivity to your surroundings encourages a state of being in which alertness as well as readiness to learn takes over. To watch and observe using every sense. To see people react in their environments and in turn watch how their environments are shaped because of their impact.
To be successful in anthropology, one must learn the value of adaptation and spontaneity, and be prepared to do research when it is least expected. I learned many things in Belgrade and underwent incredible experiences – but in the end, this trip taught me nothing if not how to relinquish control and allow myself to be swept away by the tides of new adventures.
The process that helped develop me into a sensible ethnographer provided me – and I would say for others who likely had differing perspectives and nodes of sensing – with the space to make the observations I genuinely felt in the moment, and not some contrived production of a feeling for the sake of participating as an observer.