Much of what one will learn in a writing class consists of strategies for improving reader-focused prose. This makes sense of course because writing is a communicative technology with practical applic

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Much of what one will learn in a writing class consists of strategies for improving reader-focused prose. This makes sense of course because writing is a communicative technology with practical applications in the contexts of civic engagement and business.That said, writing is also a “technology of self” and a “technology of  descriptive ethnography.” This aspect of writing is the focus of every literature and creative writing class. Let me expand a bit.Any material thing or network you use to re-present your social identity (like a mirror or a selfie/social network) is a “technology of self.” Many “city” people feel very odd indeed (at least at first) when they go backcountry hiking/camping and they are separated from their technologies of self.

How could this matter to you–as student taking this class? If you are going to do anything in your professional careers that involves managing people or promoting goods/services, it would be important to understand how writing works as a means of cultural production (specifically, self-articulation). Secondly, there’s the capacity of writing to be a “technology of descriptive ethnography.”  Ethnography is the study (and documenting) of people’s identities; it is a branch of anthropology, the study of cultures and cultural difference. Thus, ethnography is a form social research, or data gathering and interpretation. Here’s a brief descripton of ethnography from wikipedia:

As a form of inquiry, ethnography relies heavily on participant observation—on the researcher participating in the setting or with the people being studied, at least in some marginal role, and seeking to document, in detail, patterns of social interaction and the perspectives of participants, and to understand these in their local contexts.

One innovator in ethnography is Clifford Geertz, who made famous the phrase “thick description” when he described an ethnographic approach that paid attention to everyday events. Instead of just observing subjects, Geertz immersed himself in their everyday culture, conducting interviews, and invited subjects to create their own self-representations. Thick description as a tool of social research contends that to understand individual lives requires background information on the webs of social relationships and emotional minutiae that operate in the background of any behavior. Thick description can be contrasted with thin description, which is a superficial account and does not explore the underlying meanings.PROMPT: Given, my explanations of writing as a tool, a technology, of self and ethnographic thick description, where do you see in “Heart Museum” Chew-Bose providing an account of her life is that is not simply a narrative, but rather a complicated (indeed, at times, swirling) self-ethnography? To help you get started thinking of this question, consider first how she MIGHT have simply provided a narrative about her life. Instead, she strings together a series of poetic reflections and vignettes of family and friends and her efforts to write. Chew-Bose risks “losing” a reader who does not want to want to enter the welter of her thoughts and memories–that is obvious. But what does she gain by writing in the “mosaic” or “impressionistic” way?


Read Chapter 1 “Heart Museum” In Chew-Bose’s Too Much and Not the Mood : Essays (TM&NIM)

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