Apprenticeship as method: embodied learning in ethnographic practice

Greg Downey*, Monica Dalidowicz, Paul H. Mason

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    68 Citations (Scopus)


    Apprenticeship, the process of developing from novice to proficiency under the guidance of a skilled expert, varies across cultures and among different skilled communities, but for many communities of practice, apprenticeship offers an ideal ethnographic point of entry. For certain kinds of anthropological fieldwork, such as studies of bodily arts, apprenticeship may offer an essential research method. In this article, three anthropologists discuss their experiences using apprenticeship in fieldwork and consider the practical and theoretical issues of apprenticeship as a site of ethnographic inquiry. As a channel for achieving social inclusion, apprenticeship offers anthropologists opportunities to navigate and chart interpersonal power, access to emic types of knowledge, first-hand experience of the pedagogical milieu, and avenues to acquire cultural proficiency. Because apprenticeship itself includes mechanisms to socialize emerging skill, such as disciplining the generation of variation that is inherent in each individual’s rediscovery or reinvention of skill, apprenticeship encourages our subjects to collaborate with us by allowing them to critique the ethnographer’s performance and provide feedback in familiar, locally-meaningful ways.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)183-200
    Number of pages18
    JournalQualitative Research
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2015


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