Corona Virus and the Ethnographer


Ethnography is a research methodology, but not every one can be a successful ethnographer. People who are social and like engaging with others tend to be more comfortable and successful. I could start a conversation with just about anyone, anywhere, so let’s say it’s a good fit.

Social distancing, however, isn’t.

I’m writing this in my home office. My husband, adult son, dog and cat are here with me. We like each other and get along well. Living within the confines of my home is not something I like to do for long periods of time. I work in my office (typically 4-5 days a week) not because I have to, but because I like being able to chat with my colleagues and students when I take breaks.

During the outbreak, I plan to stay home and following the recommendations of health experts. I’m going to worry about my mom (who is in her 70s) and my elderly friends and neighbors. As a former nurse, I have a good idea of what it’s like to die of Covid-19 pneumonia, and it does not comfort me. I worry about the economy, the social and political fallout, and just about anything else one can worry about during a pandemic.

I’m trying to stay optimistic. I’m going to have a lot of time on my hands. Maybe I’ll finish my novel! I tell myself. Maybe I’ll get the break from my job as department chair and come back feeling refreshed. Maybe I’ll catch up on that pile of novels sitting in my basement.


The truth is, I have trouble staying focused when I have too much time on my hands. I really don’t think I would have finished my PhD had I not had twins in the middle of my doctoral program (that got me motivated and focused). And as a person who thrives on human contact, this is going to be tough.

Tomorrow officially starts the extended spring break the university offered professors to get ready to teach on-line. Because my face-to-face class was a series of guest lectures, my task is to re-create the class without the lectures (many of whom were planning to visit campus). I’ve been doing research and reading (mainly at night when I can’t sleep because I’m worried about my mom). So I’ll get to work revising my class and see how this social distancing thing takes shape.

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