SDP 2021-2022 Week 4: Ethnographic Methods

The Practicum took a turn from the tangible this week, largely diving into the theory behind how we view the project goal of zero-waste within the city of Baltimore, how we perceive ourselves in the mix of it all, and why it is important to consider such things in the first place. But first - logistics. Those present in person and on Zoom took some time to reflect on how we have been the last few weeks, and some thoughts we’ve had about SDP so far. The energy which accrued as we each spoke, one by one, was defined by hope, anticipation, and feelings which are harder to define. In general, the members of our class have enjoyed the unique nature of what the SDP hopes to achieve through both classroom and on-site settings, as we prepare to put our promises into action. On a deeper level, there is the aura of fear that, with our melting pot of ideals simmering, we will not be able to meet the needs required to handle the boiling point. Perhaps this stems from the theoretical spin we place on the work at hand, as reality creeps back to expose the strange and fantastical depths of the human mind and its craving for logic.
On that note, after solving some issues of availability in the coming weeks (4:30-5:30 EST will be our tentative additional hour of work time), we delved into discussion about our weekly readings. There was a lot to be said. Our starting point was calling ethnography a “displacement into another world”, one which first grew from the colonial activities of mercantilist nations which sought to understand the people they sought to control, but now flipped on its head as a potential source of empowerment for both the surveyors and surveyed. At its core, we concluded that ethnography succeeds when there is openness, dynamic interactions, and an embrace of one’s own feelings about how he or she interprets situations. The “data” being collected is not all numeric, and we must listen to what people are not saying, as that is often the most true to what they mean. We attend to the people and the situations they are in, looking to the past and future as guides. Our conversation turned to distinguishing between cultural critiques and activist research, where we alluded to the conclusion that the former pursues an understanding of the world while the latter shapes the needs of the outcome through embracing the needs of the movement behind it. There is merit in changing the terms of our understanding of the world to change how we experience it. With the SBCLT, the understanding comes from what is visible and what is not - waste and its effects. Our class is not meant to be the invisible here, a window; we seek to be a cell in the body of the movement, and o be humble, attentive, and deductive with what we do, hear, and learn. We concluded by with a prompt from Anand to share our experiences with waste through the Commons, whether it be those that participated in the door-knocking or engaged in some other way. The gears are finally turning, and the future is visible.