Black Lives Matter Syllabus Project

The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatter Syllabus Project, Week 16: Victor Kumar on James Baldwin, Margaret Mead and Ethnographic Approaches to Studying Race

The editors of Anthropoliteia are happy to relaunch the second semester of an ongoing series The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus Project, which will mobilize anthropological work as a pedagogical exercise addressing the confluence of race, policing and justice. You can see a growing bibliography of resources via our Mendeley feed.  In this entry, Victor Kumar discusses James Baldwin and Margaret Mead and Ethnographic Approaches to Studying Race.


Near the intended end of the party, my friend announced the peculiar reason for my being in America at the present time and invited the company to tell them their frank opinions on the Negro problem. For a moment a somewhat awkward silence descended upon our party, a queer feeling that our relation of human understanding was broken. (Myrdal 1944, 33)

Years ago, I had an unsettling experience while helping to teach a course on ethnographic methods. Focusing on the concept of neighborhood in Baltimore, the course was designed to train students in basic methods while at the same time honing their curiosity and ability to formulate anthropological questions. The goal was to give the sense of ethnography as, on the one hand, comprising longstanding and relatively stable procedures while, on the other, entailing a creative process that overturns and transforms itself as it moves along the contours of a field.

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