Broadly defined, community ethnography is research that requires the researchers' active participation in, as well as systematic observation of a community. However, what constitutes a community--and what qualifies people to claim some legitimate affiliation with one—are complicated questions, which will be addressed in the first part of this course. Through readings, discussions, and activities, we will find that researchers, social workers, and community members define "community" along a number of different lines, variously employing the terms of geography, history, ethnicity, intention, value, and/or identity to ground their definitions. We will also discover that how one defines community has much to do with how one approaches the research process.
In this course, we will give considerable attention to the idea of community as a field of social practice. That is, we will learn how one studies community as situated, collective action, which must be reproduced for some sense of communitas to survive. Accordingly, ethnographic and ethnohistorical methods of social research will be highlighted. Students will learn about the philosophy behind these modes of inquiry and acquire some of the concrete skills necessary to conduct this kind of work. As social workers and social work researchers, we will explicitly consider how community ethnography can aid in our various practice and policy endeavors. We will also discuss models of community research that are designed to allow university-based and community-based constituencies to share expertise, skills, and resources.