SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Principles of Social Investigation

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1

Classical anthropology contributed to the emergence of a comparative approach to the study of human diversity with the advent of ethnographic practice. Ethnography became one of the defining features of social anthropology, whilst participant observation became its key method. This course examines the inspiration for the ‘ethnographic method’, its contribution, its limits, and the conditions for its successful performance. It focuses on the various ways anthropologists have attempted to represent the ‘world out there’ in remote places and at home, and will explore how anthropologists have conducted fieldwork and have theorised it over time. We shall scrutinise the various degrees of reflexivity, risk-taking, ethical dilemmas and self-disclosure in the fieldwork process.


  • This Module is capped at 30 places
  • Priority is given to 3rd year students
  • Students enrol via the on-line Module Sign-Up system. Students are advised of the timing of this process via email by the Faculty Office.

Scope and syllabus

Topics to be covered include:

  • the use of field research methods: interview techniques and surveys;
  • gender and the researcher;
  • the challenges of working in awkward spaces;
  • the challenges of doing ethnographic research “at home”;
  • the relationship between the ethnographer’s self and “the field”;
  • representation and the ethics of field research.

Method of assessment

There is no exam for this course. Instead, one essay of 2,000 words (40%) and one fieldwork report of 2,500-3,000 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.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules