Fieldwork: Rural Diversity

Fall 1998

Course meets: Tuesday, Thursday 10:25-11:40 AM
Room 14 Davis House

Professor: Howard L. Sacks
Department of Anthropology/Sociology
Room 106 Palme House

Office Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday 10:00-11:00 AM
Tuesday 1:00-3:00 PM
and by appointment (ext. 5850; e-mail SACKSH)

Research Room: 15 Davis House, ext. 5507


This course provides an introduction to fieldwork techniques and to the ethical and political issues raised by our purposeful involvement in other people's lives. Students will spend considerable time conducting original field research throughout Knox County, with the results to be presented publicly. Our research will focus on rural diversity. Although commonly associated with metropolitan areas, diversity is also characteristic of small towns and rural communities. Knox County, for example, includes Amish, Jewish, African American, Greek American, and other ethnic and religious communities in its midst. We will examine the character and extent of rural diversity, its relevance for identity, and the relationships among groups. What lessons can we learn about pluralism in this distinctive setting? This course satisfies the senior seminar requirement in American Studies. Prerequisites: SOCY 10, 11, or 12 and one additional sociology course or permission of instructor.


Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Colored People: A Memoir (New York: Vintage Books, 1995).
Bruce Jackson, Fieldwork (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987).


I've constructed this course with several goals in mind; two of these are evident from the course title. Fieldwork will introduce you to several of the methods associated with field research that facilitate the systematic collection of observations about our surroundings. In my experience, research methods are best understood by actively doing research, so the majority of your time will be spent in the field conducting original research.

The subject of our collective research efforts will be rural diversity. We live in a pluralist society, and diversity constitutes a central issue in our nation today. Yet the discussion of American diversity centers almost exclusively on life in urban areas; little attention is paid to the considerable diversity that exists in rural settings. What new understandings might we gain from the consideration of rural diversity?

By examining Knox County's diversity we participate in the life of the surrounding community. Sociologists have long identified radical individualism as a hallmark of modern life. While the cybernetic revolution extends our networks to include the entire planet, internet access may only further separate us from a sense of place and the significance of face-to-face relationships.
Our research into this subject will generate new knowledge that has significance both within and beyond the surrounding community. Creating a public project enables us to share our understandings with others. At the same time, this community work raises important questions for us to consider about the relationship of academic life to the broader world and our social responsibility to others.


This course emphasizes collaborative learning involving students as active participants in the creation of knowledge, and the various assignments reflect this approach. I will provide detailed handouts describing particular assignments in class.
My evaluation of your work (and your final grade) will be based on your demonstrated ability in four areas, each of which will constitute one-quarter of your grade in the course:

Journal. Each student will maintain a journal including research documentation, responses to course readings, and discussions of class activities.

Research Assignments. Students will conduct original research, including both focused assignments and self-directed work toward completion of a course project.

Course Project. Students will develop and implement a significant project for public presentation in the spring.

Class Participation. Students are expected to contribute actively to class meetings through both formal presentations and general discussion.

If you have a disability and therefore may have need for some type of accommodation(s) in order to participate fully in this class, please feel free to discuss your concerns in private with me AND be sure to contact Dean Jane Martindell at PBX 5145 or via email at MARTINDELLJ.


[NOTE: Dates listed in bold are special events at times other than our regularly scheduled meetings. Readings listed with an asterisk (*) are on reserve in Palme House.]

I. Understanding Fieldwork

8/27 A. Introduction to the Course

course syllabus

9/1 B. Fieldwork: Issues and Approaches

Bruce Jackson, Fieldwork, pp. 1-52.


Colin Bell and Howard Newby, Community Studies: An Introduction to the Sociology of the Local Community (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1974).

James Clifford and George E. Marcus, eds., Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

Robert M. Emerson, ed. Contemporary Field Research: A Collection of Readings (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1988).

Don D. Fowler and Donald L. Hardesty, Others Knowing Others: Perspectives on Ethnographic Careers (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994).

Charles C. Ragin and Howard S. Becker, What is a Case?: Exploring the Foundations of Sociological Inquiry (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

9/3 C. Ethical and Political Issues in Fieldwork

Bruce Jackson, Fieldwork, pp. 259-279.

II. Understanding Diversity

9/8 A. Defining Diversity

* Frederik Barth, "Ethnic Groups and Boundaries." Pp. 294-324 in Werner Sollors, ed., Theories of Ethnicity: A Classical Reader (Washington Square, NY: New York University Press, 1996).

* Herbert Gans, "Symbolic Ethnicity: The Future of Ethnic Groups and Cultures in America." Pp. 425-459 in Sollors, Theories of Ethnicity.

9/10 B. Rural Diversity

The Community Within: Black Experience in Knox County, Ohio, Kenyon American Studies Exhibit, 1993. Olin Library, 3rd floor.

III. Conducting Fieldwork

9/15 A. Fieldwork Techniques

Bruce Jackson, Fieldwork, pp. 63-78.

9/17 B. Discussion of Field Visits

IV. Diversity in Historical Perspective

9/22 A. Diversity in Historical Perspective

* Milton M. Gordon, "Assimilation in America: Theory and Reality." PP. 248-61 in Norman R. Yetman (ed.), Majority and Minority: The dynamics of Race and Ethnicity in American Life, 5th. ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1991).

9/24 B. Searching the Historical Record

N. N. Hill, Jr., History of Knox County, Ohio (Mt. Vernon, OH: A. A. Graham & Co., 1881)

Frederick N. Lorey, History of Knox County, OH, 1876-1976 (Mt. Vernon, OH: Knox County Historical Society, 1976)

A. Banning Norton, A History of Knox County, Ohio, from 1799 to 18562 Inclusive (Columbus, OH: Richard Nevins, 1862)

H. G. H. Wilhelm, The Origin and Distribution of Settlement Groups: Ohio 1850 (Athens, OH: Privately printed, 1982)

Albert B. Williams, Past and Present of Knox County, Ohio, 2 vols. (Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen & Co., 1912)

9/29 Trip to Knox County Historical Society

10/1 & 10/ 6 C. Discussion of Historical Research

10/8-9 October Break

V. Diversity, Community, and Identity

10/13 A. Diversity and Community

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Colored people: A Memoir, pp. xi.-123

10/15 B. Diversity and Identity

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Colored People: A Memoir, pp. 125-216

VI. Interviewing

10/20 A. Issues and Approaches to Interviewing

Bruce Jackson, Fieldwork, pp. 79-106

10/22 B. Interviewing Techniques

Bruce Jackson, Fieldwork, pp. 128-193

VII. Conducting Field Research

10/27 No class: Conduct field research

10/29 Discussion of Interviews

11/3 No class: Conduct field research

11/5 Discussion of interviews

11/10 No class: Conduct field research

VIII. Implementing Public Project

11/12 Discuss class project

11/17 No class: Complete field research

11/19 Discuss class project

11/21-29 Thanksgiving Vacation

12/1 Project implementation

12/3 Project implementation

12/8 Project implementation

12/10 Project/course review

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