In May 2019, a group of University of Maine students traveled statewide, visiting city planners, transfer stations, charity thrift shops, cobblers, used book stores, antique sellers, the office of Uncle Henry’s and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, as well as other sites of reuse.
The trips were part of UMaine’s first field school in digital ethnography, the study of people and cultures being conducted in an online or digital space.
Eight students participated in the three-week course offered for both graduate and undergraduate credit. The field school was led by Cynthia Isenhour, a professor of anthropology and climate change; and Kreg Ettenger, a professor of anthropology and director of the Maine Folklife Center and Maine Studies program.
While exploring Maine’s reuse economy, students learned several ethnographic research techniques, including participant observation, interviews and questionnaires, as well as about research ethics and techniques for data management and analysis.
The course, “Exploring and Documenting Maine’s Culture of Reuse,” is part of the ResourcefulME research project headed by Isenhour and supported by the National Science Foundation.
For extended field research, the students stayed in one of three communities — Portland, Machias or Farmington — to learn about the reuse economy in those areas. The students’ final projects drew on their research results to examine common themes in the reuse economy, including value, supply and demand, and support or care within a community.
Kerry Sack, a student in the Division of Lifelong Learning who earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UMaine in 1979, says she was surprised to learn the extent to which many Maine businesses, not just thrift stores, participate and rely on reuse.
Final projects are available at umaine.edu/reuse.