EGMT 1520: Thrifting: A Case Study for Empirical Inquiry


At semester’s end at any American University peruse the dumpsters, dorm hallways and suite common rooms and you are sure to see mounds of castaway objects, once deemed of highest importance to the life and welfare of it’s owners. Eventually some of these objects, especially clothing, will find their way into a thrift-store, or on-line via second-hand sales or will be remade into new fashionable objects. Who buys and sells second-hand clothes and why? Thrifting may seem a trivial issue but even when they disagree as to its specific functions and meanings, scholars across a range of disciplines agree that it is of  increasing economic, political, cultural and personal importance in contemporary communities in the U.S. and globally. We will use the case study as an empirically grounded approach to investigate the real-world contexts of thrifting. The case study can be a powerful in-depth approach using multiple forms of empirical evidence to research complex issues, objects or activities when the phenomena is not well described and where there are multiple interpretations and points of view. Students will learn about the strengths and limitations of different types of empirical case study designs. They will then design a case study research project, explore related scholarly and popular literature, collect empirical evidence, and interpret their findings about some specific aspect of thrifting. The course will involve the students and professor in exploring how a case study method applied to a specific social practice can be a rich source for empirical inquiry into our social world, how we experience it, how it shapes our cultural identities and how it is structured across local and global sites.