Method: Architectural Ethnography

Sarah Lopez’s great project on architectural or building ethnography highlighted by a CCA talk asks how remittances and overseas migrant workers’ construction of family residences in their home villages and towns transforms those places. This transforms both the places and the subjectivities — and I would add, the social status — of migrants and the inhabitants. There is a mutual constitution of places on both sides of the border in Mexico and the US.

“Building ethnographies are conducted over an extended period of time, documenting, when possible, the envisioning, the execution, the use, and the perception of particular sites. The analysis provides a material analogue—an index—that tells the hidden stories of social change not told in the conscious narratives of individuals and groups. It is often the disjuncture between migrant narratives—their stated aspirations and intentions—and the resulting material form and use of a building that reveals the complexity, ambiguity, and ambivalence of remittance construction as a strategy.”

Sarah Lopez book entitled, The Remittance Landscape: The Spaces of Migration in Rural Mexico and Urban USA, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2015 and won the 2017 Kostof Book Award from the Society of Architectural Historians.

-Rob Shields (Univ. of Alberta)