Summary: This REU site recruits a diverse group of students drawn primarily from area community colleges for anthropological research projects on a neighborhood in urban Baltimore. The REU site utilizes anthropological methods through the lens of a public anthropology that demonstrates the relevance of anthropological research to both student researchers and to community participants. The site primarily targets students in their first year, those with at least 1 semester (or its equivalent) of community college education. Students attend seminars held at Towson University and engage in collaborative, empirical research on people's representations of Baltimore's Sharp Leadenhall neighborhood using a common set of qualitative research methodologies related to the new subdiscipline of media anthropology. While working on their own ethnographic projects utilizing diverse methodologies and forms of data gathering, including visual anthropology, participant observation, social network analysis and interviews, students simultaneously undertake collaborative media projects using the visual, textual and audio data they've gathered. These projects take many forms, but all include web-based, multimedia representations of the lives of people in communities that can be utilized by people in their own efforts to develop their communities. When students leave Towson, they spend the next months analyzing data and completing their projects for presentation to the community, the faculty and the next group of students the following May. During this time, they maintain a virtual community with other participants, including faculty and community associates, for additional collaboration and mentorship. After their research experience has ended, faculty remain in contact with student cohorts in order to facilitate transition to a 4-year university, to advise on applications for graduate programs and to facilitate the dissemination of results.

Intellectual merit: 1)Student projects illustrate the tensions and contradictions of different representations of an urban neighborhood in Baltimore using overlapping methodologies in anthropology. 2)Through collaborative media projects with community residents, the REU site develops the potentials of an applied anthropology in the age of new media. 3)Finally, the REU site offers a pedagogical model for involving community college students and community college transfer students in original research.

Broader impacts: 1)Increased interest in post-graduate education in anthropology and the social sciences among community college students. 2)Multimedia presentations created for national audiences highlighting the lives, problems and aspirations of Baltimore residents in their home communities. 3)Electronic networks of students, faculty and community residents interested in community colleges and community-based research and dissemination.

Project Report

Through ‘Anthropology by the Wire’ anthropologists, alongside students and in partnership with community residents, engage in collaborative, empirical research on people’s representations of Baltimore neighborhoods using a common set of qualitative research methodologies related to media anthropology. The research experience produced two interrelated bodies of results: 1) empirical observations on the multiple representations and practices of "place" in the city; and 2) collaborative media projects designed to help residents of this neighborhood disseminate their own versions of place both to each other and to other social actors in positions to help them: non-profit organizations, community organizers, city and state government. The project utilizes anthropological methods and theory based in urban and visual approaches and organized through technology-enabled networks in order to produce data of use to both participants as well as to the communities in which research is undertaken producing a more contemporary and timely public anthropology. Participants utilized a variety of technologies to facilitate a networked study of Baltimore while, at the same time, forming alternative networks that link them to each other and to communities in potentially meaningful and long-lasting ways. Through collaboration researchers and community members circumvented the often-commented on digital divide that exists among economically challenged communities who do not have access to certain technological platforms, and, hence, alternative information channels beyond primary media. Simultaneously, the information produced about the community and delivered through different media platforms provides a window into the lives of urban residents that is rarely seen in traditional media outlets that tend to exacerbate stereotypes about urban residents. Urban residents and those that live outside of these spaces are often trapped in a cycle of stereotypic and reifying representation of one another, a media based engaged public anthropology has the potential to change this trend.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
SBE Office of Multidisciplinary Activities (SMA)
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Fahmida N. Chowdhury
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Towson University
United States
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