Observer on the Move: Shadowing
Ethnography of Ethnic Flexibility in NYC

by Rosalyn Negrón (University of Massachusetts Boston)

Working Papers WP 14-04
April 2014
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

Full text: pdf

I will present an analysis of mobile shadowing ethnography, a research approach that dynamically engages body, mind, and sensibilities in research on how ethnicity is lived and performed in one of the world’s most diverse locales: NYC. During fifteen months of fieldwork throughout NYC, I shadow observed eleven Latinos as they invoked multiple ethnicities. Walking with them, I came to know NYC as a system of neighborhoods, socioeconomic regions, networks of relationships, and a series of encounters. Each participant served as my guides to NYC as I explored how their ethnic identities were shaped by multiple modes of difference. I argue that moving in and through a city’s spaces – physical, socio-cultural, and interactional – sharpens the researchers sensibilities to local manifestations of continuity, change, and complexity that is spurred by globalization. I discuss the advantages of the shadowing ethnographic approach for studying how intense diversity is experienced and negotiated in everyday city life. I further point to some of the ways that life in diverse urban places shape the development of ethnic flexibility.         

Rosalyn Negrón is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Broadly, Rosalyn’s work deals with the interpersonal dimensions of ethnicity in diverse cities, with a special focus on social interaction and social networks. With applications to health, communication, and immigration policy, Rosalyn’s work bridges multiple substantive and methodological areas, including social network analysis, health disparities research, and ethnic and racial minority STEM participation. She has conducted fieldwork in Jamaica, Florida, New York City, and Boston.