SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Ethnographic Research Methods

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Term 1
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.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

By the end of the course, students will have acquired a critical and historical knowledge of a range of research methods in anthropology. They will have acquired a critical awareness of the theoretical assumptions, problems and potential biases 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 through instruction in critical reading. 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. A solid appreciation of anthropological methodology will allow students to: undertake high-quality research within or outside the university; write methodologically-informed anthropology; think through research design mindful of both the questions to be asked and the welfare and interests of the researched; communicate both methods and findings effectively to a wide range of audiences.


The basic format of classes/lectures will be a one-hour lecture followed by a one-and-a-half-hour discussion. This will vary occasionally. Students will be expected to have read the key texts each week and be prepared to discuss them in class.

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 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

Scope and syllabus

Topics covered are:

  • the use of social science field research methods: the experience of fieldwork and the intellectual life trajectory of an anthropologist.
  • the problems of objectivity, explanation, and verifiability in fieldwork investigations.
  • field-notes and ethnography.
  • critiques of anthropological representation and claims on truth.
  • interview techniques and questionnaire design.
  • applied research (‘mass observation’ and ‘rumour chasing’)
  • gender and the researcher.
  • interpretation and discourse analysis.
  • history, ethno-history, archives and life histories.
  • representation and the ethics of field research.

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.


Every Tuesday 4-6.30 p.m. (please check the timetable on the web). The lecture room and class-rooms will be announced.

Method of assessment

There is no exam for this course. 100% course assessment is through two assignments, totalling 5,000 words, due Monday, Week 1, Term 2: (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.

Please be aware that University of London regulations on Plagiarism apply to all work submitted as part of the requirements for any examination. 

Suggested reading

  • Alan Bryman. 2001. Social research methods. NY: Oxford University Press.
  • 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