Fieldwork methods in language and culture (PG)

Key information

Start date
End date
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

This module is directed to students planning to conduct research on various aspects of social and cultural life during a period of residence in the region of their interest – and particularly recommended to students who are also learning a language as part of their programme, as described further below.

We explore ways in which “culture” can be conceptualized – e.g. culture as product (novels, plays, manga) or culture as everyday practices (e.g. particular rituals of interpersonal communication, communication ‘styles’, etc.) – and observe in particular the role of language in the construction of culture and cultural identity. By assessing such notions critically, we provide the basis for an enhanced understanding of what learning a second language means, develop an increased awareness of our position in this process, and of the challenges and potential of intercultural communication.

This reflective work not only complements the learning in the language classes and acts as a preparation to the challenges of living and studying in an unfamiliar cultural context, but it also provides the intellectual instruments required by the design of research projects with an ethnographic orientation. The lectures in the second half of the module aim to provide guidance on good practice in the design of ethnographic projects on any aspect of contemporary life in the regions of the students’ interest.

Non-core readings for the module will reflect the regions of interest to the students, and examples from various regions will also be referred to during the lectures.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  • display an articulate understanding of specific concepts such as gender, religion, kinship, nationalism, exchange, material culture, their culturally-specific instantiations, as well as their contested nature
  • achieve some familiarity with a number of basic techniques of ethnographic fieldwork (participant observation, formal interviews, etc.)
  • develop an informed awareness of, and sensitivity to, human diversity, an appreciation of its scope and complexity, and recognition of the richness of experience and potential that it provides.
  • develop a critical, ethnorelative attitude, and a deeper, more articulate and informed understanding of self as well as others, and one’s own culture as well as that which is the object of study
  • observe, identify and analyse critically instance of verbal and non-verbal communication which characterize specific aspects of social life, and through these abilities devise an ethnographic project in the country of interest
  • (for students who also learn a language during their programme) have an enhanced understanding of the language learning process, in the broad sense of a process of acculturation, and appreciate the constitutive function of language in all aspects of social life


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 1 hour tutorial.

Scope and syllabus

The following syllabus is for guidance only and is subject to alteration at the discretion of the module convenor.

  1. YA as fieldwork: Language learning as social practice; learning in host culture as ethnographic experience
  2. Culture in the language: Notions of culture and the constitutive function of language
  3. Interculturality: Language and culture competence, native speakerhood, bi/multi/plurilingualism and bi/multi/pluriculturalism; cultural identity; culture shock
  4. Designing a small scale ethnographic project: principles of ethnography; observing verbal as well as non-verbal communication and its social contexts; reflexivity
  5. Designing a small scale ethnographic project 2: as above
  6. Working with people: Collecting demographic data; ethical issues; culturally sensitive issues
  7. Data: Various kinds of linguistic or cultural data; cultural knowledge; description vs interpretation;
  8. Interview: ethnographic interview techniques; participant observation and field notes vs more formal interviews
  9. Writing ethnographic projects:  the constructed nature of accounts
  10. Student presentations: presentations of research projects

Method of assessment

  • An essay of 1500 words  (30%)
  • A presentation on the draft of the ethnographic project (10%)
  • Ethnographic project (2000 words) (60%)

Suggested reading

Blommaert, J., & Jie, D. (2010). Ethnographic fieldwork: A beginner's guide. Bristol ; Buffalo: Multilingual Matters.

Copland, F. and A. Creese (2014). Linguistic ethnography: Collecting, analysing and presenting data. Los Angeles: SAGE

Robertson, J. E. ed. (2005). A companion to the anthropology of Japan. Malden, MA ; Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules