Forthcoming… of ethnography, cities and education

Abstracts for two forthcoming papers.


Evan Blake is a social science teacher based in Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs. He holds a Masters in Human Geography, specialising in urban social relations. Before teaching, he worked as an urban ethnographer and action-researcher on the streets of the City Bowl.

Evan’s current research interests include growing senses of citizenship, belonging and social inclusivity through service education, and the use of urban focused, grassroots-based ethnographic processes to better support the production of grounded, relevant and actionable knowledge.

Learning through action: an experiential, ethnographic approach to teaching learners and learning to teach.

Geography is a subject that should open countless opportunities for learners to creatively think about their world at the early stages of their high school careers. At its core, it is a subject about observing the world around us and finding actionable responses to that which we observe, whether it be social, political, economic or physical in nature.

The curriculum for Geography at a junior high school level is however often dry in nature, lending itself to be taught in a rote fashion. The task of teaching this curriculum is compounded by students who do not necessary learn best through more “traditional” modes of instructional teaching, and typically find Geography challenging or boring.

Using digital tools like GIS and Google Earth, games like SimCity, and more subversive, interdisciplinary, real-world applications of Geography like Parkour and Urbex could provide a unique approach to this challenge. In a traditional instructional environment, they can provide the first steps to supporting students with more practical, grounded and relevant ways to conceptualise how Geographic principles apply to their everyday lives.

With this approach, teaching Geography takes the first steps away from instruction and embarks on a slow journey, guiding students towards a realisation rooted in their own unique, individualised understanding of their environment. For the Geography educator, this approach to teaching requires an understanding that every classroom holds countless possible permutations and configurations of identities, personalities and experience that can shift and change from lesson-to-lesson.

Out of necessity, this classroom terrain requires the teacher to act as an ethnographer; reading and mapping out the social landscape of their students to constantly readjust their approach.

Present, past and the quart in Salt River: an ethnographic exploration of everyday practices and place-making, and the role of positional knowledges in shaping this exploration.

Salt River — a small industrial, working class suburb on the fringe of Cape Town’s central city — has undergone various social and economic shifts across the past decade which have irreversibly reconfigured its social and physical landscape. These shifts include pressures from gentrification-led development plans and the emergence of an intra-African foreign-national multiclass. Based within this rapidly changing suburb, alcohol consumptive practices can be a means to sustain specific notions of belonging, memory, community and place. This study aimed to unpack these dimensions of place making in a seemingly nondescript, yet vital centre of popular memory for many of Salt River residents: one of the city’s last remaining historical hotel tavern establishments.

Through an ethnographic fieldwork process and employing an analysis of a combination of texts — including consumption anthropology, urban history and social relations theories — the research began to lay bare the more tacit and invisible everyday interconnecting social processes of place making that a community of diverse individuals and identities (including those of the researcher) have contributed towards.

In a reshaping suburb with re-emerging contestations around race, class and nationality, the research also began to reshape and re-emerge out of necessity, becoming something far more reflexive in nature. This led the researcher questioning how his own everyday geographies might have produced certain imaginings and knowledges of the diverse social, cultural and economic relations that create “place” in the hotel. The research theorised this auto-ethnography as one of infinite possible permutations of representing the friction-fraught place and identity processes that each patron in the hotel negotiates everyday.