SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Research Methods in Anthropology

Module Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year

This is the year-long core course for the MA Anthropological Research Methods. Enrolment is limited to students on that MA programme.

This course provides a post-graduate level introduction to the various methods of enquiry and interpretation used in anthropological research, including applied work. It explores the relation between research design and research methods with the aim of introducing students to good research practice. The course familiarises students with key debates about the status of anthropological research data and the conditions of its production. Topics to be covered include:

  • the use of social science field research methods — the experience of fieldwork, 
  • interview techniques, 
  • questionnaire design, 
  • applied research, 
  • rapid and participatory research methods, 
  • gender and the researcher, 
  • interpretation and discourse analysis, 
  • history, 
  • ethno-history and the use of archival sources, 
  • the problems of objectivity, explanation, and verifiability in fieldwork investigations, 
  • representation and the ethics of field research.
Lecture Programme
  • Week 1. Course overview: The production of anthropological knowledge
  • Week 2. What is fieldwork?
  • Week 3. Participant observation
  • Week 4. The nature and scope of ethnography
  • Week 5. ‘Personal anthropology’ and ‘Writing culture’
  • Week 6. READING WEEK
  • Week 7. ‘Mass observation’, tracing rumour, and other methods
  • Week 8. Surveys and interviews
  • Week 9. Feminist methodology?
  • Week 10. History, life history and method
  • Week 11. Ethics and representation

The course includes various practical sessions (e.g., on interview technique) and short fieldwork assignments to generate critical awareness among students of their own observational and data recording processes.

During the second term, students will attend the Introduction to Quantitative Methods in Social Research course in the Department of Politics and International Studies.


This course is open only to students on the MA Anthropological Research Methods.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

By the end of the course, students will have acquired knowledge of a range of research methods in anthropology. They will have acquired a critical awareness of the theoretical assumptions, problems and potential misuse of such methods. Through practical exercises and participant observation experience they will have gained an understanding of their own capacities for the collection and recording of ethnographic data. They will have acquired understanding of how to set out a research proposal (for example for grant application purposes). Students will gain a capacity for conceptual and ethical reflection on anthropological research. This grasp of method, epistemology and ethics will enable students to write their dissertations (15,000 words), and progress towards post-graduate research should they choose to do so.


Term 1 - Every Tuesday 12-1 (lecture) and 5-6pm (seminar)

Term 2 - Every Thursday 9-11am

Please check the timetable on the web.

Method of assessment

There is no exam for this course. 50% Course assessment is through two assignments totaling approximately 5,000 words: (a) a mini-ethnography based on participant observation, and (b) the preparation of a research proposal, or a book review or an essay on methodology. 50% Class Test.

Suggested reading

  • Bernard, H.R. 2001 (2nd edn) Research methods in anthropology. Alta Mira:London (4th edn 2006).
  • 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.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules