Engaging Communities: An Open-access Ethnographic Writing Text

Engaging Communities is an open-access textbook focusing on ethnographic research methods in inquiry-based first-year writing classrooms. In this text, my co-author Ames Hawkins and I use and invoke the methodological principles and practices associated with ethnography because these strategies not only inspire and engage first-year writing students but offer both critical analytical skills and the opportunity to address the rhetorical concepts of ethics, identity, and representation. The text isn’t intended to teach ethnography as a research methodology. Rather, it has been designed to help students (most likely undergraduates, but possibly high school and some graduate students), envision interesting, hands-on research projects that are eventually converted—translated—into writing. Through our teaching, we found that ethnographic writing allows for specific discussion regarding how to involve and interest a reader, in evoking physical and emotional connection with writing, rather than simply becoming informed or persuaded by any specific piece of writing. In other words, we are invested in ethnographic writing as a practice that invites the student-writer to envision writing and composing practices as alive, interactive, connected, and reciprocal.

We published Engaging Communities online in 2008. Since then, this project’s reach has surpassed our expectations. To date, the web version of the text has had well over 43,000 users in 181 countries. In addition, it has been downloaded as an ePub (for free) well over 1200 times. The text has been “sold” (at cost for $7 for printing and shipping) almost 250 times. Though we cannot be sure, given that more than 75% of the users are over 25 years old, we imagine the reach may be even greater than it appears as that much of the audience seems to be instructors who may be taking aspects of Engaging Communities into their courses without specifically assigning the text. In addition to classroom use, the text has been cited in five scholarly articles focusing on writing pedagogy. Over the years we have received tens of emails from instructors telling us how wonderful and helpful the text is and how grateful they are that we’ve made the text fully accessible to them and their students.

We invite you to join us in our col­lab­o­ra­tive, open-access text project.  We have a “bring what you know,” build, adapt, and remix phi­los­o­phy for the project, so we are continuously look­ing for any teach­ing mate­ri­als you have cre­ated (assign­ments, new chap­ters, adap­ta­tions of existing assign­ments and chap­ters, etc.) as well as exam­ples of stu­dent work from any aspect the text, that you would like to share. In this way, we envi­sion the con­tin­ual devel­op­ment of a wealth of mate­ri­als for class­room use, draw­ing from the expe­ri­ence and exper­tise of our teach­ing and learn­ing com­mu­nity. See more about opportunities to contribute here.