Prague is not the Czech Republic. This any seasoned ethnographer knows. However, it is a hard concept for students to grasp. Or perhaps they simply fell in love with Prague. This I understand.
To shake them loose I crafted an ethnographic experience outside of Prague. Dividing them in half my assistant, Alex, and I boarded two trains heading in different directions. Alex headed to Benešov (photo on the right), a former political meeting hub to the southwest. I set off for Beroun (two photos below), an old German merchant and garrison town east of Prague.
The goal, cook up observational stew. With four specific tasks they spent two hours exploring the town, collecting observations and cooking up insights to craft a town cultural code.
One, conduct detailed sensory observations. What does the town’s architecture look like? What do the streets feel like under your feet? What are the sounds of the town? What scents do you encounter? What does the food taste like?
Two, behaviorally document the people. What types of people are in town? How do they interacting with others or are they alone? What are they wearing? What is the cadence of their speech?
Three, interview the town’s people. Find out what it emotionally means to them. We wished them luck. It’s hard enough to get people in Prague to speak with you. Now imagine a town where few speak English! This task required tenacity and patience.
Four, photographically documenting the town and its inhabitants.
Once they collected their observations and cooked them into a stew of delicious observational insights they worked to define a town culture code. For Beroun, my students decided the cultural code was “library.” Learn why and check out more about the process on my class blog.