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ETHNOGRAPHIC FIELD LAB tracks the transnational in metropolitan Phoenix.


We explore global borders in the heart of the local urban community in this beyond-the-classroom ethnography course at Arizona State University.


Caught in the tension between the nation and the globe, metro Phoenix experiences a kind of dizzying "urban vertigo," perched on a transnational edge. This edge is our field site!


Designed as a practicum in qualitative ethnographic research and interpretative analysis in an interdisciplinary social science framework, the course engages students in its theme through qualitative research practica and hands-on urban ethnography. Transnational Phoenix serves as laboratory for our fieldwork, where students practice participant observation, interviews, mappings, visual & digital media excavations, and other ethnographic fieldwork strategies. In their web portfolios here, the students' social analysis of their observations address several key questions:

  • How do we recognize the global in the local? Where are the “outcroppings” of the transnational?
  • How can we map the social and territorial spaces where the global meets the local?
  • How are interiorized transnational borders monitored and disciplined?
  • How do local residents inhabit transnational spaces and speak about them?
  • What is at stake for communities caught in the tension between the nation and the globe?

This course took us on an extraordinary collaborative adventure researching the global impact on the urban culture and social space of metro Phoenix. This semester we investigated the “border” around the city's Foreign Trade Zones & their benefits to global corporations, explored the impact of migrant and refugee communities on the social & built environments, tracked the localized global geography of global religions in temples and churches, pondered the global provenance of products, cuisines, the localization of ‘foreign’languages, and engaged the hyper-local response to globalization by looking at the locavore food movement and sustainable small-farm agriculture. We drove all over the Valley of the Sun!

Through our fieldwork observations, documentations, participations, mediations, meditations, peregrinations, conversations, fascinations, and mappings, we aimed to “make visible” some of the many global connections permeating our local communities. We learned to “read” the cultural landscape, the built environment, the ecology of human relations, the signs, iconography, and sentiments of the city and its inhabitants in all their local/global glory. Big-picture concerns drove our inquiry:

  • Can we “excavate the future” of metro Phoenix by taking its global pulse?
  • Can we alter the “cognitive mapping” of how global connections are engaged in the city’s predominant urban imaginary?

Students have shared their findings in the web portfolios presented here. We invite you to take a look, learn, enjoy!

Hey Visitor

Site constructed by undergraduate students in Kristin Koptiuch's Ethnographic Field Lab class at Arizona State University, spring 2012.

© 2012 Please give credit to authors when citing. Viewpoints expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent views of the professor or ASU.

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