SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Ethnography in Practice

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Term 2

This module introduces students to the methods of social anthropology, past and present, and the practicalities of doing ethnographic field research today. What is the basis of anthropological knowledge? How is anthropological research conducted? How has the nature of ‘the field’ changed over time? What is anthropological ‘data’? What is the relationship between ethnographic research and ethnographic writing? Students will learn to read ethnographic texts with a critical mind, asking whether and how scholars make their methods and interpretive process explicit in their writing.

Over the course of the term, each student will develop and carry out a small-scale field research project. As a key component of this process, students will undertake a series of practical exercises in the mechanics of fieldwork (participant observation, taking field notes, interviewing, ethnographic description, etc.) that will build their skills as an ethnographer and help them sharpen the focus of their research project. These exercises will be discussed collaboratively in class each week, both in methodological terms and in relation to issues raised in lecture and assigned readings. Through the module’s theoretical and practical exploration of ethnographic methods, students will gain real-world research experience and grapple first hand with questions of anthropological ethics, interpretation, representation, and knowledge itself.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a good understanding of ethnographic methods, their theoretical underpinnings, and their possibilities and limitations for making general and comparative claims.
  2. Undertake fieldwork, with everything this entails: from project design and writing a research proposal to ethics review and risk assessment, data collection, analysis and writing up.
  3. Understand the ethical implications of doing research among human subjects.


2-hour seminars every week
5 hours fieldwork over the course of the term

Scope and syllabus

The course covers the following: history of anthropological methods; fieldwork and the ethnographer as ‘the human instrument’; participant observation; ethnographic interviewing; multi-sited fieldwork; biographic, life history and narrative methods; auto-ethnography; research ethics; research proposal writing; ethnographic description and modes of representation.

Suggested reading

  • Okely, Judith. 2012. Anthropological Practice: Fieldwork and the Ethnographic Method. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Stocking, George, ed. 1985. Observers Observed: Essays on Ethnographic Fieldwork. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Amit, Vered, ed. 2000. Constructing the Field: Ethnographic Fieldwork in the Contemporary World. London: Routledge.
  • Emerson, Robert, et al. 1995. Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
  • Sanjek, Roger, and Susan W. Tratner. 2016. eFieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology in the Digital World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Coleman, Simon and Peter Collins, eds. 2006. Locating the Field: Space, Place and Context in Anthropology. Oxford: Berg
  • Armbruster, Heidi, and  Anna Lærke, eds. 2008. Taking Sides: Ethics, Politics and Fieldwork in Anthropology. Oxford: Berghahn.
  • McLean, Athena, and Annette Leibing, eds. 2008. The Shadow Side of Fieldwork: Exploring the Blurred Borders Between Ethnography and Life. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Markowitz, Fran, and Michael Ashkenazi. 1999. Sex, Sexuality and the Anthropologist. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  • Narayan, Kirin. 1993. ‘How Native is a ‘Native’ Anthropologist?’ American Anthropologist 95(3): 671-86. 
  • Fordham, Signithia. 2011.  ‘Write-ous Indignation: Black Girls, Dilemmas of Cultural Domination and the Struggle to Speak the Skin We Are In.’ In Alysse Waterston & Maria Vesperi, eds. Anthropology off the Shelf: Anthropologists on Writing. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules