About the CEE

The Center for Experimental Ethnography

The Center for Experimental Ethnography was founded in 2018 to promote multi-modal research practices as both method and theory, integral dimensions of scholarly research.  Directed by Deborah A. Thomas (John L. Jackson, Jr., Co-Director), we are a group of faculty across eight of Penn’s twelve schools who facilitate and support multi-modal research practices among undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and our partners within the City of Philadelphia and beyond.  We coordinate scholarship, research, and public partnerships related to multi-modal work practices; consolidate those activities in which we (and our students) are already engaged; and grow these generative connections by hosting Visiting Scholars, coordinating workshops and conferences, supporting multi-modal project based courses, facilitating visual, sonic, and performative undergraduate and graduate research projects, producing rigorous criteria for assessing those projects, engaging with arts and community-based institutions throughout Philadelphia, and forging connections with other like-minded institutions worldwide. 

We believe that multi-modal research practices transform how we conduct research, how we generate and disseminate knowledge, how we train students, and how we remain accountable to the communities in which we interact and through which our research circulates.  We see creative practice as intellectual work that necessarily historicizes the inequalities that pervade our society, and that develops solutions for their present iterations through collaborative and participatory work.  A basic premise that underlies our efforts is the contention that an expanded and multi-modal definition of what counts as scholarship will help lead to a more diverse university community, a community in which artistic practice is a cornerstone not only for engaged and participatory democracy and social justice, but also for the reimagining and transformation of the university as a whole.

CEE Director
Deborah A. Thomas

Deborah A. Thomas is the R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also core faculty in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, holds a secondary appointment with the Graduate School of Education, and is a member of the graduate groups in English, Africana Studies, Comparative Literature, and the School of Social Policy and Practice.   

Thomas is the author of ​Modern Blackness:  Nationalism, Globalization and the Politics of Culture in Jamaica (2004)Exceptional Violence:  Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica (2011), and Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation: Sovereignty, Witnessing, and Repair (2019),  and co-editor of the volume Globalization and Race:  Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness(2006). She also co-produced and co-directed the experimental documentary Four Days in May, co-curated the Bearing Witness Exhibit and co-directed the documentary Bad Friday: Rastafari after Coral Gardens. Prior to her life as an academic, she was a professional dancer with the New York-based Urban Bush Women.  ​

Email Dr. Thomas at Deborah.Thomas@sas.upenn.edu.