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Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Principles of Social Investigation

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2
This course provides an introduction to the various methods of enquiry and interpretation used in anthropological research, including applied work.

The aim of the course is not only to provide some knowledge of research methods used by anthropologists but also to impart a critical awareness of the theoretical assumptions and potential misuse of such methods in social science research.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

After completion of the course, students will:

  • Have acquired a basic knowledge of the key methods employed in anthropology so as to produce data, as well as, of their potential misuse.
  • Be able to debate and evaluate critically the diverse epistemological foundations of anthropological research methods.
  • Be able to apply such methods for the production of anthropological knowledge.
  • Be able to design and develop a viable research project.
  • Have acquired a basic knowledge of the ethics informing anthropological research.

Scope and syllabus

Topics to be covered include:

  • the use of social science field research methods; 
  • questionnaire design, interview techniques, and the experience of fieldwork; 
  • applied research, rapid and participatory research methods; 
  • gender and the researcher; 
  • interpretation and discourse analysis; 
  • the problems of objectivity, explanation, and verifiability in fieldwork investigations; 
  • representation and the ethics of field research.

Method of assessment

There is no exam for this course. Instead, two pieces of coursework and one class presentation.  Coursework will comprise of one assignment of 1,500 words (30%) and the other at 3,000 words (60%) both due on the first day of Term 2.

Suggested reading

Sample readings:
  • Ellen, R.F. 1984 (ed.) Ethnographic research: a guide to general conduct. London: Academic Press.
  • Gupta, A. & J. Ferguson (eds.) 1997. Anthropological locations: boundaries and grounds of a field science. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Hammersley, M. & P. Atkinson 1983. Ethnography: principles in practice. London: Tavistock.
  • Hastrup, K. & P. Elass 1990. Anthropological advocacy: a contradiction in terms?, Current Anthropology 13: 301-310.