Engaging Ethnography: Student Engagement as a Means for Creating Change



Our communities, particularly the poor and minority, are experiencing the destructive effects of neoliberal policies. Such policies dismantle social safety nets, locate causes of poverty and criminality in individual bodies and neighborhoods, and foster the privatized “free” market as the solution to our society's problems. Although government, at all levels, abandons the social welfare agenda, individual residents and neighborhoods are forced to assume further responsibility for managing and improving immiserated conditions. Dedicated residents, student volunteers, and service agency workers provide the only stop-gap between “making ends meet” and destitution (Edin and Lein 1997). This paper is an account of a summer youth program developed by two anthropology students, as a result of their long-term, politically engaged ethnographic work among community residents, and children and staff at a recreation center located in an ethnically diverse but minority and low-income concentrated neighborhood. Incorporating the aspects of experiential education, service-learning, community development and applied anthropology, we endeavored to demonstrate that a politicized anthropology was capable of doing more than just documenting the effects of structural violence, the dif.culties experienced by marginalized populations, and the effectiveness of personal agency. Through engaged ethnography and collaboration we helped create new knowledge and applications that have been useful and valued by the community and other researchers at the University of South Florida.