Note: This is a student project from a course affiliated with the Ethnography of the University Initiative. EUI supports faculty development of courses in which students conduct original research on their university, and encourages students to think about colleges and universities in relation to their communities and within larger national and global contexts.

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Title:"Cultural/Ethnic" RSOs: "Promoting Culture" and the Construction of Meaning
Author(s):Anth411 07-26
Subject(s):Student Organizations
Abstract:“Cultural/Ethnic” RSOs employ popular social discourse on cultural appreciation and affiliation, mediated through the organization and given meaning in practice. Their very existence is based upon this discourse. How do organizations with official mandates to “promote culture” or “cultural awareness” make sense of these concepts and apply them to their own goals? Using the Indian Student Association as a case study, preliminary findings show that social discourse is conceptualized and applied in divergent ways within the organization, and terminology varies strikingly. To meet the particular needs and desires of its members, ideas are utilized based upon how they fit into their realities. ISA addresses its constituency holistically, not just as members of a particular ethnic group. This involves balancing serious cultural studies with activities that students consider fun or useful. Future research would look more closely at this variance and look at how the concepts made available by cultural discourse are appropriated and given meaning in other cultural organizations. It will examine not only how they are articulated but how they are defined in practice by using specialized methods for analyzing different media, allowing participants to provide their own definitions, collecting a variety of viewpoints, and situating them in relation to each other to see if and how they function within the organization. This will show how meaning emerges in the organizational setting.
Issue Date:2008-02-11
Course / Semester:ANTH 411: Methods for Sociocultural Anthropology, Prof. Nancy Abelmann. This course introduced students to a variety of ethnographic methods. Students tried their hand at some of these methods through a focused project. I had students think about their semester-long work as "pilot research"; although they did write up a short paper on their findings (their "discuss" section of the database), the culminating assignment was a research proposal in which they envision building on their preliminary findings in a longer/larger project. In the beginning of the semester, students did some warm-up exercises not directly related to their projects (an observation, an analysis of a university document, and an interview) -- some students elected to remove these from their databases while others left them in because of their connection to the final project. Students' "question" and "plan" sections of the database include multiple entries as I encouraged them to continue to refine these over the course of the semester in dialogue with their own emerging findings. I also asked students to search both the U of I Student Life and Cultures Archives and well as this EUI IDEALS collection to find archives relevant to their pilot/proposed research. All students were asked to "reflect" on the research experience and to make "recommendations" to the University on the basis of their research findings. The course syllabus is available at:
Publication Status:unpublished
Date Available in IDEALS:2008-02-11

This item appears in the following Collection(s)

  • Student Communities and Culture
    The university offers an extraordinary opportunity to study and document student communities, life, and culture. This collection includes research on the activities, clubs, and durable social networks that comprise sometimes the greater portion of the university experience for students.
  • Diversity on Campus/Equity and Access
    This collection examines ways in which the U.S. university and the American college experience are affected by diversity, and difference. In particular, these student projects examine experiences of diversity on campus, including important contemporary social, cultural, and political debates on equity and access to university resources.

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