Dispatches from the Field

Dispatches From The Field: The American Dream

About the Project 

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The raw material of ethnographic research seldom reaches a broad audience. Sometimes readers encounter fragmented voices incorporated to texts more focused on getting across social theories. But the work of research subjects to articulate the challenges and contradictions of their lives has intrinsic value beyond its sociological frame. Those stories and ideas expressed through interviews, field notes, poems, and drawings hold their own as creative and analytical work. Rather than offer ready theories or answers to social problems, they incite instigating questions and reflections.

Dispatches from the Field is a collaborative project that involves sociology MA students at Columbia University in reading, writing, and editing primary source material to produce a series of chapbooks designed to engage readers directly with qualitative research data. The publication itself challenges traditional journal formats, opening the way for non-linear approaches to reading and interpreting. Much as ethnographers encounter their data, Dispatches encourages readers to make their own paths through the publication, critically piecing together disparate voices.

This year’s edition includes a series of reflections that refer to the American Dream, or rather, a set of differing American Dreams and their elusive promises. In one interview, a retired textile worker reminisces about community life during the heyday of the former company town in which she has lived for six decades. A college student who works full-time as a waitress draws a tongue-in-cheek version of her American dream, which includes unlimited access to perfect avocados. An immigrant street vendor describes the joy of working independently. In a piece that interweaves interview excerpts and poems, a young African-American man recently released from prison reflects on the racism and the criminal justice system.


Series Editor: Denise Milstein

Editorial Committee, Issue 1: Addison Malone, Alibek Kissybay, Andrea Avila, Hanna Love, Isik Sarikamis, Kaitlyn Cunningham, Rachel Tjahjadi

Contributors, Issue 1: Alejandra Cueto Piazza, Dante Barber, Kea V. Saper, Sam Donahue, Nataliya Nedzhvetskaya