Observer on the move: shadowing ethnography of ethnic flexibility in NYC

by Rosalyn Negrón

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

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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.      

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