A Different Kind of Ethnography: Imaginative Practices and Creative Methodologies

edited by Denielle Elliott and Dara Culhane (2017, University of Toronto Press). 

The Centre for Imaginative Ethnography released a collection of essays on imaginative ethnographic methods in 2017, with chapters from all five co-curators of the CIE collective. Perfect for teaching upper level undergraduate methods or graduate methods courses. 

It includes:

Imagining: An Introduction by Dara Culhane

Writing by Denielle Elliott

Sensing by Dara Culhane

Recording and Editing by Alexandrine Boudreault-Founier

Walking by Cristina Moretti

Performing by Magda Kazubowksi-Houston

Selections here:

Imaginings: An Introduction, by Dara Culhane

Different Kind of Ethnography Preface


Graduate Student Projects inspired by a Different Kind of Ethnography:

LINYING HU is a PhD student in Anthropology at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Simon Fraser University. She is currently enrolled in SA 875 Ethnographic Methodologies: Graduate Seminar, taught by Dara Culhane. Here is her blog post assignment drawing from:

Boudreault-Fournier, Alex (2016) “Recording and Editing,” in Elliott, Denielle and Dara Culhane, Eds. A DIFFERENT KIND OF ETHNOGRAPHY: IMAGINATIVE PRACTICES AND CREATIVE METHODOLOGIES. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 69-89, Exercise: Soundwalk.


Rosaldo, Renate (2014) “Notes on Poetry and Ethnography,” in THE DAY OF SHELLEY’S DEATH: the poetry and ethnography of grief,” Durham NC: Duke University Press, pp. 101-113

A Soundwalk on Dunbar Neighbourhood

Time, in an unexpected way, has extended its isthmus between life and myself. Twenty years of forgetfulness were required before I could establish communion with my earlier experience, which I had sought the world over without understanding its significance or appreciating its essence.

——-Claude Levi-Strauss

When I was a child, I had a pair of quick ears. I heard wind blowing leaves, leaves falling on the ground; I heard crickets singing in bushes, fishes bubbling up in the water; I heard blossoms dropping on the river, the river meandering to the far away; I heard the moon rising from the back of the village, the mouses chatting under my bed; I heard my grandma staggering her bound feet to the window, and the candle she was holding dancing in the wind. 

When I grew up, my ears become dulled. Car running on the road, engines roaring, crowd noising, music deafening, I wish I don’t have ears. Generally, but eventually, I forgot I have a pair of ears. 

This is a warm afternoon in late summer. I went through the noises of Dunbar Street, walked on the alleys, where I heard the wooden door crunching. I stood still, listened to my neighbour fixing his fence, the stockings of a hammer echoing through the quietness. Two blocks away, someone is cutting grass in the backyard. A helicopter is buzzing a field. A dog is barking. A basketball is bouncing merrily. I heard children running, chasing, playing around the playground. I listened crows calling the sunset on the top of the woods. I hold my breath, listened the wind blowing the soft, beautiful melody of the guitar through the park.

I am delighted. My ears are waking up….

My Google Earth Project on soundwalk is as below: 


PS: I gave my son, Shenru Hu, credit for helping with creating the PPT and hyperlink. Due to some technical problems, the display is probably slightly different from the original version.


Entrapped (I)

As a bioethicist, I had been working on psychiatric ethical issues in China since 2010. To observe the process of families sending women with suspected mental disorders for involuntary hospitalization, I conducted a survey and interviewed some patients in three women’s wards within a leading psychiatric hospital in Beijing during July to December 2012. After six months’ intimate interaction, observation and communication with patients, I was greatly struck by the predicaments of women with mental disorders. The project finished three years ago, but some scenes have been hanging over my mind. I do not think I get ready to write them out yet. But ethnographic poetry “may offer a new possibility for knowing and representing the world in a way that is not only more lyrical, but also more affective in the way that emotions can be portrayed and evoked.” (Culhane & Elliot, 28) Here I am telling you the story of a woman, who was diagnosed with bipolar. Patient does not have her name in the hospital. She is called her beds’ number. The woman is # 403.


An aging woman sits alone by desk,

motionless, watching the sky go

from light to dark.


She has a filial son and

a well-behaved daughter-in-law.

They give her new clothes and cotton socks,

but she never bothers to take a look.


Her room was full of trash,

plastic sheets, shoe boxes, wooden boards, and

hundreds of dirty glass bottles.

Her son once said, this place makes him choke,

she shouted at him and asked him

to never come back.


She would have never gone out to eat, she said,

the food was poisoned. Do not fool me with a honeyed word.

She likes taking medication

more than any food in the world.


She has a filial son and

A well-behaved daughter-in-law.

They sent her to the white ward,

cleaned up her room, and

sold it out.


She sits alone by the desk,


Why the house did not catch on fire yet,

that is the right ending I can accept.

Entrapped (II)


I consulted my diary of August 16, 2012, which briefly recorded a woman’s depiction of how her only son and her daughter-in-law hoaxed her and sent her to a psychiatric institution. She is # 403 in my last blog.

Due to the long-stand lack of legal basis for the protection of patient rights and the lack of criteria and procedures for involuntary admission, the standard practice in China’s psychiatric institutions is that the signature of her family member is the warrant for the involuntary hospitalization of a suspected mental disorder patient.  And only the person who sent the alleged mental disorder patient for admission has the legal authority to submit the application for discharge. Even the new national mental health law, which took effect on May 1, 2013,  does not change this situation. 


Stepping out the taxi,

You find yourself in the front of

a gray building. Black characters on whiteboard

shinning, your eyes are stabbed with pain.


“You offer me a lunch at a restaurant,” you ask your son,

“Why do you take me to this place?”

 He gives an oblique look to his new wife, and

said, “I get nostalgic, mother, cannot sleep day and night.

Please accompany me to the doctor.”


The lobby is crowded, 

like flies buzzing around. 

Sad faces are everywhere.

You are led as a blind, turning 



                              and right. 

Stairs are steep, corridors are long. 

You are thinking to escape, but 

your legs feel desperately weak. 


Your son gets in an office.

Through the filthy door curtain,

you see he is talking to a white coat, while

pointing out.

White coat nods.

Two nurses come your way. 

They both are young, good look, smiling at you,

“Auntie, please get in! We can give you a tour. ” (1)


You are trembling, trudging, 

with ashen face, feeling like a fish 

on a chopping board. 

You know

you cannot flee away any longer.





(1)   In China’s society, it is a polite way for young people to call the females of the last generation, who are younger than their mothers, auntie, even though they do not have any family relations. 



Tanya Boyanova is a PhD student in the School for Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C., Canada. She is currently enrolled in SA 875: Graduate Seminar in Ethnographic Methodologies, taught by Dara Culhane. For this class, Tanya is completing some assignments set out in A DIFFERENT KIND OF ETHNOGRAPHY: Imaginative Practices and Creative Methodologies, edited by Denielle Elliott and Dara Culhane.


Friday, 29 September 2017

Assignment 2: “Soundwalk”, in

Boudreault-Fournier, Alexandrine (2016) “Recording and Editing,” in Elliott, Denielle and Dara Culhane Eds. A DIFFERENT KIND OF ETHNOGRAPHY: IMAGINATIVE PRACTICES AND CREATIVE METHODOLOGIES. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Pp. 69-89


This has been video-recorded at Mountain View Cemetery in East Vancouver, the original sound has been kept. One can hear the water drops hitting the ground, as well the construction noise in the background of a new house being build on one of the side-streets bordering the cemetery. I can also hear some birds and the sound of the dog sniffing the wet grass, also the wind brushing the microphone. I experienced the concept of how a video recording can act as a catalyst (Boudreault-Fournier 2016:71) in my research. Objects in the frame, movements, light, sounds created associations and relationships that otherwise would have not occurred to me, and aided my understanding, pushed further inquiry. When I started taking the video, the only thing that I could think of was to be very still, then I thought I should show some more context. Quite honestly, Chara’s presence (the dog) in the background is a complete accident, but a beautiful one. She performs strikingly as she draws your attention to the graves in the background of the action (the action being the dripping of the water). The video ends with the viewer’s attention being drawn back to the “drops of time”. Complete beginners luck…


Monday, 9 October 2017

Assignment 3: Write an Ethnographic Haiku (38),

Elliott, Denielle (2016) “Writing”, in in Elliott, Denielle and Dara Culhane Eds. A DIFFERENT KIND OF ETHNOGRAPHY: IMAGINATIVE PRACTICES AND CREATIVE METHODOLOGIES. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Pp. 23-44

Haiku and more…

bare feet on warm ground

wet dog, glistening black eyes

sunset in cherry tree

falling leaves, graveyard,

drip, drip, dripping water tap,

low sunray in droplet

tic tac toe!

die and in a square you go

black crows, white seagulls, too

in a kitty-corner showdown,


but… without you