Skip Navigation

Brockport / Anthropology / Undergraduate / Ethnographic Research

Ethnographic Research


Ethnographic clip art

What is Anthropology? When you tell someone you’re an Anthropology major – do they know what you are talking about? What are public perceptions of the discipline? In 2014, students enrolled in the Cultural Anthropology Research Methods course (ANT 383, formerly 394) set out to explore this question. The Brockport community (e.g. adults either employed or enrolled at the College) was selected as the population under study. With IRB approval in hand, the students documented how the local college community perceives anthropology, as a department and field, if at all. General demographic data, information about people’s perceptions and academic experiences, and documentation of institutional discourse were collected using four methods – review of the literature; a survey administered to students in a range of academic courses; semi-structured interviews with select community members; and participant-observations at institutional recruiting events. This information will prove useful to students, local social science departments and college-administrators interested in students’ decision-making and perceptions of various majors.

Preliminary Findings sparked fascinating questions for future research. For instance, to what degree does academic environment versus social relationships affect one’s choice of major?  How does institutional discourse (i.e. What the College says in its advertisements and at events) influence perceptions of the social sciences including anthropology? To what degree, are perceptions of academic majors (and their associated careers) influenced by cultural values of capitalism and norms of upward mobility?

In total, over 339 students were surveyed reflecting a range of class-statuses, age-groups and majors from a student in the 18 – 25 years age-group to a student in the 50 years-plus age-group as well as faculty and staff-members. This was a convenience sample and is not considered representative of the population. However, for the exploratory purposes of this study, this mixed-method approach proves effective at revealing the complex factors at play in shaping individual and public perceptions. Additionally, 14 individuals, who were perceived as community “gate-keepers” or who had taken the survey, were also interviewed for more information regarding personal context and experiences.

Most of the respondents had heard of anthropology, primarily from media outlets and from having taken anthropology courses either at Brockport or a prior educational institution. Among the respondents, almost equal numbers self-reported as having taken an anthropology course or a course in another social science (be in Sociology, Psychology or Political Science).  Respondents who could identify an anthropologist sometimes noted a member of the Brockport anthropology department, but more often referred to Dr. Margaret Mead, and the fictional characters, Dr. Indiana Jones from the Spielberg movies, and Dr. Temperance Brennan from the t.v. show, “Bones.” Overall, respondents tended to hold a neutral impression of anthropology.  Preliminary findings indicate that people’s awareness of anthropology was shaped by their current and past social and academic contexts. A cultural expectation and value placed upon making money influenced some respondents’ choice of major, and their perception of anthropology as non-lucrative led to choosing other majors.

Dr. Esara and the students in the class appreciate everyone who participated in this project. Special acknowledgement goes to the Anthropology work-study students who assisted with some of the data-entry.

Past Projects:

Can learning be fun and beneficial to others? In 2011, students enrolled in Research Methods in Cultural Anthropology, engaged in service-learning activities. They practiced their interpersonal and observational skills in an unfamiliar but friendly setting -- Lakeside's Beikirch Care Center. This occurred as part of a "Coffee and Conversation" program with a group of lively residents, who appreciated the students’ company.

Pictured l-r are Angie D'Agostino, Caitlin Moore, Brittany Knight, Kathering Drake and a resident, who is unnamed due to Hippa regulations.

Pictured l-r are Sandor Vegh, Richard Lovelace and three residents whose identities are kept confidential.


Will we ever have an African-American in the White House? Some people never thought it possible!

The Election 2008 Oral History Project took place in the spring of 2009. Students enrolled in Cultural Research Methods interviewed participants about their memories and stories leading up to this historical event. Stories were collected at area libraries including the Brockport-Seymour Library. This project was sponsored by the Rochester City Historian's Office, the Monroe County Historian's Office, Monroe County Library System and the Rochester Regional Library Council.


The Clarkson Oral History Project (2006-07) recorded the personal histories of former students who attended the two-room Clarkson schoolhouse and three one-room schoolhouses in the area. The transcribed interviews and student reports are deposited with the Clarkson Historical Society.

Here is a slideshow of the oral history project.
Click on a photo to roll through the presentation.

Last Updated 8/22/14


Dr. Esara Caroll organized/chaired a two-part panel called "Fieldworkers' Insights into Refugee Resettlement" and presented a paper at the Society for Applied Anthropology meetings in Vancouver, BC, March 29–31, 2016

Dr. Esara Carroll's project Supporting Adult Refugee Students is being funded by The Reed Foundation Inc. Read all about it.

Dr. Neal Keating (Anthropology) presents paper at the Indigenous Language Conference held on Haudenosaunee Six Nations Grand River Territory in Canada. Check it out.

Dr. Pilapa Esara Carroll shares the activism of a refugee documentary director in the latest issue of (585) Magazine. Read more here.


Please join us on Thursday, April 14, from 5 to 6:15 pm in Edwards 106 for our second lecture in our Marjorie Helen Stewart Speaker series from Dr. Micah Morton, titled, "Reframing the boundaries of indigenism: Akha mobile indigeneities in the Upper Mekong Region."