Methodological Reflections onEthnic and Disciplinary Categories


Artineh Samkian

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My initial proposal for the Ford research grant was to examine how Armenian identity is articulated and constructed by Armenian-Americans in Los Angeles. I explained that Armenians have used essential definitions to portray ourselves as good immigrants who contribute to rather than contaminate American society. As my research progressed, I learned that these definitions have changed with the advent of increased immigration of Armenians to the United States. I learned that there are divisions within our community and that not only do Armenians distinguish ourselves from other ethnic groups, but that we also make a distinction among Armenians depending on the country from which we emigrated. Categories of good and bad are being formed based on the pressures Armenians are facing in maintaining our good immigrant status. After participating in the Summer Research Program at Occidental and reflecting on the ways in which disciplinary categories were constructed to separate the sciences, social sciences and the humanities, I decided to explore the problematics of categorization as I was observing them both in the program and in my own research. Ultimately, I learned that all of us, with the help of the dominant culture, construct artificial boundaries, whether they be ethnic or disciplinary, and that these categories are meant to serve a strategic and political purpose. Just as Armenians create categories to avoid a bad reputation, so too do social scientists who discredit ethnographic methods because they do not meet the standards of the "real sciences."


Jeff Tobin




Ford/Anderson Research Grant

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