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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Student Autobiographical Essays as Person-Centered Ethnography: Building Empathy with a New Approach to Anthropological Interviewing Assignments

Published Web Location Commons 'BY-NC' version 4.0 license

Interviewing assignments are frequent components of cultural anthropology courses. In this exercise, students focus on the content of person-centered ethnographic interviews by providing the material themselves. Students write autobiographical narratives that are shared anonymously with the class. This allows them to explore the strengths and limitations of using personal narratives as data, while also considering the role of audience and the challenge of making respondents anonymous. The exercise’s greatest impact, however, comes from giving students firsthand experience with the power of listening to people’s stories, and the assignment has proven remarkably successful at building empathy among a diverse peer group.

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