No Magic! Teaching Ethnographic Writing


  • Julia Pauli


Ethnographic writing, teaching ethnography, fieldwork, narratives


In this essay, I reflect on my experiences in teaching ethnographic writing to graduate anthropology students over the last decade. After years of experimenting with different course formats and ethnographic exercises, the anthropology department in Hamburg now offers two courses on ethnographic writing before fieldwork and one course after students have returned from the field. The first course, taken before students conduct their master’s fieldwork, focuses on reading ethnographies. It draws on John van Maanen’s (1988 [2011]) Tales of the Field to explore different writing styles and guides students to imitate these styles in different writing exercises. The second preparatory course introduces students to ethnographic writing through the observation of everyday interactions. Students observe, take notes, and write ethnographic narratives about visits to a playground, an elevator ride, or lunchtime in the university cafeteria. When students return from their master’s fieldwork, they finally participate in the ‘Ethnographic Writing Workshop’. Here students write and revise key ethnographic scenes, dialogues, and portraits derived from their fieldwork. This set of ethnographic writing courses encourages students to read (more) ethnographies, reflect on writing styles, and work on their own writing in groups and by themselves. With this essay, I want to initiate a dialogue about different approaches to teaching ethnographic writing.





Pauli, J. (2021). No Magic! Teaching Ethnographic Writing. Ethnoscripts, 23(1). Abgerufen von