Living in Covid Times: Ethnographies of my Students

Updated: Jun 1

Anthropology class January to May 2020, Academy of Art University, California.

I teach an Introduction to Anthropology class on line to MA students of various art disciplines at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Every semester, my students do five weeks of fieldwork in their hometowns leading up to a final ethnography. The students are based in the United States, Central and South America, Asia, and Europe. Various topics such as café culture, street art, public spaces, and public transportation are common themes of their fieldwork.

We were just gearing up to get ready for fieldwork when Corona Virus turned into a worldwide pandemic. And suddenly, fieldwork as I had designed it for ten years became an impossibility. In Marseille, France, I was "confined" to my house. Laiana, in Puerto Rico entered "cuarantena" with her boyfriend. Eddie (Eduardo), my Mexican student living in California had to return quickly to his family in Mexico. Ting from Taiwan made a hard decision to shelter-in-place with her roommates in San Francisco, where she is studying at AAU. She returned to Taiwan during the last week of classes. Debbie (Deborah) sheltered in southern California, with heightened precautions as she was caretaking her 96 year old father. Kendall sheltered in his new home in Texas, recently returned from living in Japan, with his wife and toddler. Alyssa lives in Arizona and continues work in Southern Utah in an animal rescue society. And Bonnie researched from her parents home in China, where they were just coming out of sheltering-in-place. They are a creative and international bunch working toward their MAs in music production, photography, fine arts, and more. This was an opportunity to try something new.

And so I reframed our fieldwork to Living in Covid Times. Between March 15 and May 20, each student chose a theme of interest that related to their particular situation, and they went about doing fieldwork through video calls, phone calls, brief outings, even text messages, and online questionnaires to friends, family, and the class. The following blogs are excerpts I have taken from their final papers. They were required to apply an anthropological analysis to what they researched. Most found that belief systems, symbolic meaning, and habitus (or our routine behaviors), aspects that often define cultures for a time, were in flux. As the weeks went on, my researchers were able to follow their informants in this transition period. On the one hand, fears and judgements. On the other, hopes and imaginings of a better future. The daily life in confinement brought new struggles, in getting used to sanitary precautions, and eventually, some pleasures, in having time to enjoy nature or retrun to lost hobbies. These are among the first ethnographies about Living in Covid Times, 2020. If you'd like to add your stories, we'd love to hear them.

All artwork has been generously offered to this blog by Debbie. She designed each mask for a member of her family as a card, and each has symbolic meaning to give encouragement to that family member.