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Graduate Students to Host Leading Ethnography Conference

Author: Gene Stowe

Next spring, graduate students in Notre Dame’s Sociology Department will host the 13th Annual Chicago Ethnography Conference, a yearly event organized by a team of students from major Midwestern universities, including the University of Notre Dame, University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and DePaul University. Notre Dame became an affiliate member of the group last year and is playing host to the conference for the first time.

“One of the things that distinguishes this conference is that it’s graduate-student led—and the students have gotten major figures in the world of sociological ethnography to come and speak,” says Mary Ellen Konieczny, a professor of sociology who helped get Notre Dame involved as an institutional sponsor. Speakers in recent years have included Howard Becker, Andreas Glaeser, Jack Katz, Leslie Salzinger, David Snow, and Frederick Wiseman.

“It’s a great professionalization experience,” Konieczny says. “Students are able to present their own original research in a forum with other students and receive critiques from professors from whom they might not otherwise be able to get feedback.

“It’s also an opportunity to network with other graduate students and faculty,” she adds. “They meet other students who will become their colleagues and professors who can mentor them.”

Chris Hausmann, whose research involves microsociology (face-to-face interaction), emotions, and social theory, is one of the graduate students at Notre Dame who has become active in the conference and serves on the organizing committee.

“Historically, schools in the Chicago area have produced many of sociology’s best ethnographers, so there’s a real sense that the graduate students presenting papers are among the best trained and the most promising up-and-coming ethnographers in sociology,” he says.

“We’re especially excited about the opportunity to show students and faculty from other schools the great ethnographic work that folks here at Notre Dame have been doing. Professors Mary Ellen Konieczny and Erika Summers-Effler have helped Notre Dame gain a reputation for doing cutting-edge ethnographic research—and they’ve helped guide a number of graduate students who are doing really interesting work.”

Graduate students Ellen Childs and Meredith Whitnah joined Hausmann on the conference committee about the time Konieczny and department chair Rory McVeigh secured funds for an institutional membership. After the 2010 event, Notre Dame was chosen to host the 2011 conference.

Childs, for one, says her work planning the conference has already been invaluable. “Since many of us want to go into academia,” she says, “learning how to negotiate departmental and university politics is key in understanding how to get funding, how to get approval for events, who to go to, and how to talk to them. Working with Professors Summers-Effler and Konieczny, we’ve gained a lot of great experience on how to navigate the University to get what we need to make this a successful conference.”

Next year’s event at Notre Dame, set for April 8-9, 2011, is open to the public. Among other things, organizers are planning a new master’s class where top graduate students will present their dissertation work and get feedback from a top ethnographer in the field.

Other institutions involved in the conference include the Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola University Chicago, Northern Illinois University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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