WANTED: A good ethnography on culture in the U.S.

Michael Cahill (MCBlueline@AOL.COM)
Thu, 25 Jan 1996 11:08:43 -0500

On Mon, 22 Jan 1996, Rebecca Goolsby wrote:

> I am looking for a good, current ethnographic treatment of some culture,
> subculture or aspect of life in the U.S. suitable for an intro to
> cultural anthro course. In the past, I've used "Number Our Days," which
> is an engaging study of an American Jewish community center in
> California, but I'm getting tired of it and haven't come across another
> book I like as well. Something on Asian Americans, African American
> culture or a social problem/social issue (treated ethnographically) would
> be especially welcome. Any suggestions?

I recommend _Hard Living on Clay Street: Portraits of Blue Collar Families_
by Joseph T. Howell (Anchor/Doubleday 1973). A remarkable ethnographic study
of white lower working-class families (with an upland Southern flavor: the
research was done in Washington, D.C.). Makes a critical distinction between
"hard living" and "settled living," one that is both culturally and
analytically valid for increasing segments of the American working class.
Reads like a novel. Written in 1973, but in no way dated.

At the other end of the spectrum, I recommend _The Bohemian Grove and Other
Retreats: A Study in Ruling-Class Cohesiveness_ by G. William Domhoff (Harper
1974). Mapcap high jinks (actually "Low Jinks") of members of America's upper
class while bonding on retreats. Written in a "breezy" manner, the final
chapter nevertheless asks the following core ethnographic questions -- is
there a national upper class, how does it reproduce itself, does it rule

The work of Terry Williams and William Kornblum should be considered, e.g.,
_Growing Up Poor_. What's nice here is that the two of them have put out a
fine companion video (series, maybe) on how they do ethnographic research in

Also, Elijah Anderson, an anthropologist at Temple, I believe, has recently
published an excellent ethnographic study of the inner city entitled
_Streetwise_ (Univ. of Chicago 1992).

Finally, I hear that another anthropologist, Phillippe Bourgois, has just
published _In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio_. A gritty
ethnographic account. I haven't read it yet, but it was covered in the NY
Review of Books.

Michael Cahill