Transformative Ethnography: teaching the art of fieldwork

  • Lisa Karen Feder Academy of Art University
Keywords: African music, Manding, Mande music, Guinean music, Guinea, AfroJazz, jali, djeli


Transformative ethnography is a method of learning to cross cultures through an embodied, experiential, and reflective practice. I have developed this method over fifteen years of anthropological fieldwork and reflection. This methodology requires the practitioner to embody a foreign practice, generally through art, music, or a specialized skill or technique. She moves through four phases that overlap and intertwine as she goes about the ethnographic process: sensorial observation, embodying practice, emptying and reflecting, and embodying representation. The purpose of Transformative Ethnography is to become explicitly aware of the process of loosening ones own, and adopting to another cultural way of thinking and acting. The overarching research question to this methodology asks How can we re-make ourselves, consciously, in order to fit new (multi-) cultural realities? It is controversial in that it incorporates mindfulness training - something not yet broadly accepted in our discipline. It is creative in that it draws on art-based techniques of observation and embodiment in ways that select few anthropologists are using in the field today.

Author Biography

Lisa Karen Feder, Academy of Art University
Lisa Feder is a cultural anthropologist with a specialization in West African Manding music. She teaches anthropology for artists at the Academy of Art University in San francisco while she continues filed work with West African musicians in Paris, New York, and Guinea.