New book first known ethnography of a Canadian university

York anthropologist Penny Van Esterik, co-author of a new book that examines York University ethnographically, asks the essential question – what is life like in an academic community?  To arrive at the answer, Van Esterik and co-author Laurie Baker sharpened their qualitative research tools and dug in to capture the richness of culture at York.

The long-awaited result is the new book Trying The Way: Ethnographic Glimpses of York University, Monograph series No. 1 from the Department of Anthropology, available through the York University Bookstore. The book will launch Monday, March 2, from 3 to 5pm, in the Senior Common Room, 305 Founders College, Keele campus.

The co-authors will lead a roundtable discussion on the ethnography, and they invite the community to contribute to an interactive digital format intended to expand and update the content. The book will be available for purchase at the event. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Trying the Way book cover, front and back

Professor Emerita Penny Van Esterik approached York as she had approached communities in Thailand where she first did ethnographic fieldwork. Joined by Baker, an anthropology PhD candidate, and student members of the Kroy Collective (York spelled backwards), Van Esterik used ethnographic methods such as participant observation around locations at York – the cafeterias and classrooms, libraries and laboratories, and other significant public spaces – in an attempt to provide a snapshot of the vibrant, diverse community of some 60,000 people who learn, work, teach, protest, administer and socialize in the institution. The authors also scoured archival materials to enrich their research base.

The Kroy project began in 2008, and was originally planned as a contribution to York’s 50th anniversary. But the task was huge, as Van Esterik soon discovered. Even after working as a professor at York for 30 years, she understood why no other Canadian university has been subjected to such a detailed ethnographic observation.

Trying The Way positions itself as a first ethnographic study in a series. Although a wide scope is covered in its 274 pages, including photographs, it hardly begins to capture the fullness of life at Kroy/York, a fast moving, forward and dynamic community. And the researchers do not pull any punches in depicting a community that has weathered controversies and growing pains.

For more information, visit the York University Bookstore, the Department of Anthropology or the Founders College websites.