This assignment is about how living spaces are structured or shaped by culture.

Imagine that you are a foreign anthropologist conducting fieldwork in the United States. As part of this study, you are conducting fieldwork in this dwelling space, where your goal is to learn what you can about different cultures in America. Walk from room to room (or space to space), noting how the rooms are laid out and the items in each. Choose five rooms or spaces (you can include yards, garage, workshop, etc.) from which you think you can learn something about the culture of the inhabitants. Inventory the items in them and draw a map of the home. Briefly describe the appearance of each room and space.

The following questions are offered to stimulate your thinking about what you have seen and to begin your analysis of this location:

Where did the things come from or originate and what does this tell you? How did they enter the home? How do they get used? Who uses them? What are the explicit or implicit rules about using different things and spaces? What can you hypothesize about the material culture of this home?
What are the main activities that go on in the home? What do people do there? Is the space gendered (i.e., is it oriented toward a particular gender identity)? How?
What is the household economy and political system? Who owns what and what are the rules surrounding ownership, borrowing, giving, etc.? Who controls spaces in the house? Is control patterned by gender (male or female), age (younger or older), generation (children, parents, grandparents, etc.), necessity or use (paid work, household chores, recreation), etc.?
What are the important symbols in the home? Note an American flag draped behind a son or daughter’s photograph is a symbol, but so too can that lounge chair in front of the TV (as well as the remote!). What do these symbols mean to different people?
Remember, you can know about a space with a fairly high degree of certainty, but you cannot know whether this space is really representative of America, or the cultural background of the inhabitants. Be sure to avoid statements such as, “Americans are a ___ kind of people.” State your analysis as questions or hypotheses that warrant further exploration.

The video summary of the film Mardi Gras: Made in China is a great representation of our relationship to items. These types of materials have multiple cultural narratives–from manufacture to consumer.



In one short paragraph, introduce the location for your study and tell us which five rooms or spaces you will be describing and analyzing. Please also tell us why you chose this location.


This section focuses on the ethnographic description of the five rooms or spaces. Describe the material things seen in the rooms/spaces.


How did you gather your data? Did you capture photographs, make an extensive inventory, stay in one room longer than the others? Why? If you have less than 5 rooms, how did you determine the different spaces you observed? If you do have 5+ rooms, what did you choose some over the others? In what ways are you relying on quantitative and qualitative data to inform your analysis?


What does the organization of the room/space tell you about its function(s) and purpose(s)?
What does the décor tell you about the inhabitants?
Do the contents of the room/spaces tell you anything about what the inhabitant’s value, like, believe (their ideology)?
What does the condition of the space lead you to believe about the inhabitants?
Is the space gendered? Is there something masculine, feminine, or queer about it?
What symbols are present? What do you think they mean to the inhabitants?

Draw a map of the room or place and its key features.
Include the large items in the rooms/places.

List the things that you see in the rooms. For example, if you are mapping a kitchen, what kinds of food and tools do you see?


Your written paper should be at least 3 pages, double-spaced with 12 pt Times New Roman font. Please number your pages and make sure to proofread. Images can and should be included in the but will not be regarded as part of the page count (i.e., you need three pages of solid writing at minimum). Make an Appendix section after your written paper where all of your images can be referenced.

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