Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail

Ethnography Paper Guidelines


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Due: Friday, April 30th at 11:59pm (upload to Canvas)

100 points



This assignment asks you to reflect on all of the material throughout the semester by reading and critically analyzing an ethnography. You have a choice of three different ethnographies (see below).


In this paper, examine the ethnography you chose in terms of the methods the author used, questions the author asked, and the author’s interpretations and conclusions. You should not merely summarize the text, but instead provide ideas, thoughts, and reactions which draw on the anthropological concepts discussed in class.


Book Choices

  • Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail

by Jason de León, University of California Press (2015)

Note: There are images of human/animal remains within the text.

  • Fierce Climate, Sacred Ground: An Ethnography of Climate Change in Shishmaref, Alaska

by Elizabeth Marino, University of Alaska Press (2015)

  • Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physicists

by Sharon Traweek, Harvard University Press (1992)

All books are available to check out from the WSU library as eBoooks.



  • Length: 3-5 pages, double spaced. Number all pages.
  • Include your name and a paper title. Do not have excessively lengthy header information.
  • Font: Use standard 12-point Times New Roman or Arial font, 12 pt and 1-inch margins.
  • Check spelling and use proper sentence structure.
  • Have an introduction, thesis/topic sentence, body, and conclusion.
  • References: Should you refer to specific passages in the text or additional readings outside of the text (not required), please provide a citation. Any citation style is acceptable, as long as it is consistent throughout.


Tips for reading your chosen text

  • Read it thoroughly rather than skimming.
    • For each chapter, take notes that identify the main topics and highlight important ideas.
  • As you read, think in terms of both the “how” (rhetorical analysis) and the “what” (plot elements).
    • “How” – who is the audience? How is it written? How does the story unfold? What’s the purpose?
    • “What” – What’s the topic?

Questions/topics you should address

Below are questions to address and suggested topics to cover in your paper.  General topics apply to all ethnographies, while each ethnography has a list of questions specific to that book.  You do not need to answer all of the questions, but they should guide the types of information you include and provide examples for how to think about the ethnography.


General Topics

  • Who’s doing the research?
    • What subfield(s) of anthropology are represented in the work?
    • What is the background of the author? Is the author an anthropologist?
    • What is their research agenda? How do they reconcile their personal/family life and issues like culture shock ?
  • Bring it back to the classroom
    • How does the book draw on SPECIFIC anthropological concepts discussed in class (i.e. gender, health, subsistence, economies, etc.)?
  • Ethics
    • How did the author impact the people who were being studied? Should anthropologists try to have as little impact on other cultures as possible?  Is it possible to conduct fieldwork without affecting the people you study?
    • A challenge in anthropology is the struggle between being an objective observer/scientist/anthropologist and being a biased, imperfect human. Are there examples of this from the book you read?
  • Fieldwork:
    • What methods does the author use? How do the methods relate to the concepts discussed?
    • Did the author of the book engage in participant observation? Are there advantages to observing but not participating?
    • Historically, anthropologists have romanticized “the field” by focusing on “remote” locations. Did the author of the work you read adhere to this tradition?  Today, is it necessary for anthropologists to study “the Other”?
  • Broader Impacts:
    • How does the ethnography contribute to anthropology as a discipline?
    • Is it applicable outside of anthropology? What can it help us understand about the contemporary world?



Land of Open Graves

  • Bring it Back to the Classroom
    • How does De León integrate different parts of anthropology which we discussed?
  • Ethnographic Style
    • How do the images included in the text contribute to the overall narrative?
    • How does De León attempt to center the story of the migrants throughout the text? Do you find this attempt successful?
  • How do the interview excerpts/conversations/descriptions of border crossings relate to the overall point of the text? Were they successful in supporting the overall goal of the text? (make sure you know what the author considers to be the main point of the text first).
  • Material Culture
    • How are discussions of physical objects integrated into the text? How does that help (or not) communicate the message of the text? Did you find this to be a helpful approach?
  • Broader Impacts:
    • See question in ‘general questions’ about the applicability of this text – how does the text relate to understanding the contemporary world? What impact might the text have on how immigration is thought of or considered?

Fierce Climate, Sacred Ground

  • Anthropology and climate change:
    • What characteristics of the Arctic make it more susceptible to the effects of climate change?
    • How is climate change impacting the village of Shishmaref?
  • Subsistence:
    • Why are traditional subsistence practices so important to the residents of Shishmaref?
    • What is the connection between subsistence practices and landscape?
  • Understanding diversity:
    • How does author apply the four models of vulnerability to better understand why hazards are more problematic for some communities and less so for others?
  • Anthropology and globalization:
    • What are the legacies of colonialism for the Iñupiat people, and how is this linked to the current crisis?
    • What caused the social and ecological conditions that resulted in Shishmaref becoming a community of climate refugees?
  • Broader impacts:
    • What can the impact of climate change on the village of Shishmaref tell us about the potential impact of climate change in other parts of the world?



Beamtimes and Lifetimes

  • Ethnographic Style
    • How does Traweek mimic the structure of traditional ethnographies (i.e. of small-scale societies) in her discussion of physics laboratories? What purpose may this serve?
    • What classic ethnographic categories and themes (i.e. kinship, gender, class, environment) are repurposed in Traweek’s ethnography, and how is this done?


  • Cultural Comparison
    • What does the cultural comparison between American physics labs and Japanese physics lab add to the argument? What does it teach us about the culture of physicists, broadly? What does it teach us about Japanese and American cultures?
  • Construction of Science
    • How are scientific results impacted by the social lives of the scientists and the social structure of the lab?
    • Do Traweek’s findings align with or challenge popular perceptions of science and objectivity?
  • Broader Impacts
    • What lessons does Traweek offer anthropologists looking to analyze contexts within our own society?
    • What impacts may this work have on the practice of hard sciences such a physics?


Suggested Structure


Unlike the other assignments, there is no standard organizational structure that you need to follow. Minimally, you will need an introduction that includes the title and author of your ethnography as well as a brief summary and a thesis statement that outlines your argument; 3-4 body paragraphs; a conclusion that summarizes your argument and draws some broader connections to the world or class themes

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