Ethnography: Sophomore Year at Duke

June 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

My initial idea for my ethnography project was to look at Duke student culture. I was especially interested in looking at the methods of production as well as the product. By this I mean that in addition to the product—student culture at Duke—I was hoping to gain a better understanding of how the actions of residence life and administrative staff, the technologies on campus, and the overall infrastructure of Duke’s campus affect and arguably engineer the student culture at Duke.

One reason that I am interested in including these methods in my research and that I have been viewing student culture as something manufactured is that college campuses are an example of a culture that outlasts its members. Every year the seniors graduate and the freshmen come in. In four years, the student body will have completely renewed itself. Yet, the student culture does not appear to change at this quick pace, which implies that it is something separate from the individual students passing through it.

I have since tightened my focus from the entire undergraduate student body, to considering just the sophomore year. I am hoping that this shift in topic will allow me to make a more in-depth observation than would have been manageable trying to look at the entire Duke experience. For example, there are three campuses—East, Central, and West—that most students will live on during their Duke career in addition to moving off campus; however, almost every sophomore lives on West Campus.

I think that doing this project during summer session will present some challenges for several reasons: only a small segment of the student population is present on campus; those who are present are unlikely to be living in the same housing that they either lived in during the spring semester or will be assigned to live in during the fall semester; during the summer, students either just finished their sophomore year or are about to begin meaning that I will have no access to any students in the midst of their sophomore year experience.

However, I think that a benefit will be the sense of perspective students will have being able to talk to me about their sophomore year experiences as a whole. In addition to speaking to students who have completed their sophomore year and are rising juniors, I hope to speak to recently graduated seniors to get their thoughts on how their sophomore year fit into their Duke career as a whole—what was different, what challenges did they face that were unique to their sophomore year, etc.  And, to recapture some of my original interest in the way campus infrastructure affects student culture, now specifically sophomores, I am also hoping to schedule some interviews with staff members involved in forming and defining the sophomore year—these might include residence life staff who’s work defines the living situation for these students, residence life or student activities staff who cater to sophomores, or academic advisors who guide sophomore students through the major declaration process.


§ One Response to Ethnography: Sophomore Year at Duke

  • ethnolust says:

    It looks like you’re coming up with great ideas for how to deal with the multiple actors that contribute to the production of a student culture. Importantly, your attention toward questions of space will allow you to further discuss the specificities of a stage of academic and social life that most students at Duke University experience.

    It also might help to think about the ways that sophomore culture is greatly influenced by some of the other social words that impact student life. Thinking about clubs and Greek life might be interesting ways deal with some of the diversity within this social category.

    The methodological issues of the study are important to point out, but you don’t need to think about them as obstacles. The reduction of the active student population during the summer could be a significant factor in the ways that some individuals plan and spend the coming academic year.

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You are currently reading Ethnography: Sophomore Year at Duke at CA94: A Cultural Crash Course.


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