Ethnography as Research Method and Text

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Mathijs Pelkmans OLD 6.13


This course is compulsory on the BA in Social Anthropology and BSc in Social Anthropology. This course is not available as an outside option nor to General Course students.


Undergraduates taking this course need to have completed the first two years of either the BA/BSc Social Anthropology or the BA Anthropology and Law.

Course content

The twofold aim of this course is to provide students with deeper insight of the process by which anthropological knowledge is produced, and to develop their skills with regard to the collection, analysis and representation of ethnographic data. Students will carry out a small ethnographic research project and conduct library research, each of which will result in a written text. In the first half of the course the focus is on ethnographic research. We will review the main tools of anthropological research, and discuss the ways in which empirical data are being incorporated in ethnographic texts. The research techniques that will be reviewed include 'participant observation,' various approaches to asking questions and interviewing, and research with documents and in archives. Students will carry out a small research project in London in which they address a specific research question from different angles, employing the various techniques learned during the course. They will report on their research activities and write a short ethnography on the basis of their research findings. For the other half of the course students will write an extended essay based on any topic deemed to be amendable to anthropological analysis, and agreed by the candidate's tutor. The tutor will be concerned that there is an adequate body of relevant literature available for analysis, and that the topic as defined is not unmanageably large. Candidates will be expected to draw widely on their reading from other anthropology courses for their essay.


10 hours of lectures, 10 hours of classes and 1 hour of workshops in the MT.

Formative coursework

Students have the opportunity to write tutorial essays on topics from the course during Michaelmas Term and have the opportunity to submit an abstract and a three-page outline of their extended essay to their mentor during Lent Term.

Indicative reading

Cerwonka, A. and Malkki L.H. Improvising Theory: Process and Temporality in Ethnographic Fieldwork (2007); Davies, C.A. Reflexive Anthropology: A guide to researching selves and others (1999); Engelke, M. (ed.) The Objects of Evidence: Anthropological approaches to the production of knowledge (2009); Epstein, A. The Craft of Social Anthropology (1978); Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P. Ethnography: Principles in Practice (2007); Jacobson, D. Reading Ethnography (1991); Spradley, J. Participant Observation (1980).


Essay (50%, 8000 words) in the ST.
Project (35%) in the LT.
Other (15%) in the MT.

The three elements of assessment are the following: Two “Interim Reports” of 600 – 800 words each during MT (7.5% each). One 4,500-5,000 word “ethnography” or analytical description based on the research project to be submitted in the beginning of LT (35%). One 7,000-8,000 word “extended essay” based on literature research to be submitted in the beginning of ST (50%).

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2012/13: 37

Average class size 2012/13: 12

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information