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Political Ethnography: Method, Sensibility, Writing

Member rate £492.50
Non-Member rate £985.00

Save £45 Loyalty discount applied automatically*
Save 5% on each additional course booked

*If you attended our Methods School in July/August 2023 or February 2024.

Course Dates and Times

Date: Monday 29 July – Friday 2 August 2024
Time: 09:30 – 12:30 CEST

Kristin Anabel Eggeling

University of Copenhagen

This course runs over five half-days and includes the following topics:

Day 1: What is ethnography and what is political about it?

Day 2: Ethnographic methods

Day 3: Ethnographic writing

Day 4: Design, quality, and ethics of ethnographic research

Day 5: Controversies and futures of ethnographic research in political science

Purpose of the course

  • Describing and explaining the standards of ethnographic research
  • Applying the key concepts and practices of ethnographic work
  • Understanding the value and limits of ethnographic research
  • Accounting for relevant debates in the field
  • Designing and conducting ethnographic research
  • Comparing ethnographic research to other forms of inquiry
  • Evaluating ethnographic knowledge claims
  • Producing and handling ethnographic data
  • Writing ethnographic fieldnotes and texts
  • Strengthening critical thinking by reading ethnographically
  • Acknowledging and identifying the politics of knowledge claims
  • Developing ethnographic sensibilities for the complexity of social and political life
  • Evaluating and relating ethnographic studies to other social scientific traditions
ECTS Credits

3 ECTS credits awarded for engaging fully in class activities.
1 additional ECTS credit awarded for completing a post-course assignment.

Instructor Bio

Kristin Anabel Eggeling is Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen and a visiting researcher at the Danish Institute of International Studies.

Kristin researches, teaches, and writes about international politics, diplomacy, global tech policy and qualitative and ethnographic methods in international relations. Kristin has done ethnographic work in the Middle East, Central Asia, Europe and the US among a range of different actors, primarily political elites and diplomats.

In 2023, Kristin was awarded the Anthony Deos Early Career Award for the emerging scholar in Diplomatic Studies from the International Studies Association (ISA). Her work has won other international awards and has been published in leading international relations and social science journals including the European Journal of International Relations, the Review of International Studies, Global Studies Quarterly, Millennium, Geopolitics, and Qualitative Research.

Political ethnography is a broad, interdisciplinary research strategy that seeks to generate contextual knowledge about social and political worlds based on the immersion of the researcher into those worlds. Researchers working in an ‘ethnographic key’ (Longo & Zacka 2019) commit themselves to ‘being there’ and ‘getting close’ to everyday mess and mundanity to put the ‘life’ back into everyday life and the ‘social’ back into social science. As a mode of analysis, ethnography eschews unitary and one-sided interpretations, and its goal is often to complexify rather than to simplify existing arguments and assumptions. As a scholarly practice, ‘ethnography’ can stand for many things: a method, an attitude, a written record, a feeling, a tool, and a thing. Definitions range from calling ethnography a ‘way of seeing’ (Wolcott 2008), a ‘writing genre’ (Clifford & Marcus 1986), or a ‘practice of representing’ (van Maanen 1988 [2011]); to describing it as a form of research ‘from the body’ (Wacquant 2015), and ‘the most human of [all] methods’ (Yanow & Schwartz-Shea 2018).

Over the last years, ethnographic methods have become increasingly popular in political science and international relations, where they are used to study international relations, politics, and power ‘from within’ and ‘from below’. Yet, ethnography’s place and role in our discipline remains contested. While some embrace ethnographic ways of seeing and its promise to bring the lived experience of real people back into our analyses, others criticize ethnography for its naïve empiricism, ethical dilemmas and, apparent inability to produce generalizable insights.

This short course will provide you with a space to learn about and experiment with what it means to study politics and power ethnographically.

Course Structure

The course is structured as a seminar involving three components:

  1. Insights and overview of relevant debates and literature from the lecturer.
  2. Application of content of the course to your own research plans and projects and group discussion thereof.
  3. Practical methodological and writing exercises.

Each course day will blend these three components, with short breaks in between individual sessions.

We will make extensive use of the chapters in:

  • Edward Schatz’s edited volume (2009) Political Ethnography: What Immersion Contributes to the Study of Power (London and Chicago: University of Chicago Press)
  • Timothy Pachirat’s (2018) Among Wolves: Ethnography as the Immersive Study of Power (London and New York: Routledge)
  • Richard Fenno’s (1990) Watching Politicians: Essays on Participant Observation (University of California, Berkeley)
  • Alice Goffman’s (2014) On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press)


  • Clifford, J. and Marcus, G. E. (1986) Writing Culture. Edited by J. Clifford and G. E. Marcus. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. doi: 10.1525/rep.2014.
  • Longo, M. and Zacka, B. (2019) ‘Political Theory in an Ethnographic Key’, American Political Science Review, 113(4), pp. 1066–1070. doi: 10.1017/S0003055419000431.
  • Tsing, A. L. (2015) The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • van Maanen, J. (2011) Tales of the Field: On Writing Ethnography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Wacquant, Loïc. 2015. “For a Sociology of Flesh and Blood.” Qualitative Sociology 38 (1): 1–11.
  • Wolcott, Harry F. 2008. “Ethnography as a Way of Seeing.” In Ethnography: A Way of Seeing, Chapter 4: 62–87. AltaMira Press.
  • Yanow, D. and Schwartz-Shea, P. (2018) ‘Serie’s Editors Foreword’, in Yanow, D. and Schwartz-Shea, P. (eds) Timothy Pachirat: Among Wolves: Ethnography and the Immersive Study of Power. London and New York: Routledge.

How the course will work online

Live classes will be held daily for three hours on Zoom, allowing you to interact with both the instructor and other participants in real-time.

Over the duration of the course, it will be possible to have one-on-one consultations with your instructor, which will offer an additional opportunity for feedback and guidance on your research project.

Prerequisite Knowledge

You do not need to have prerequisite knowledge to attend this course, but a few things are worth noting:

1. The course is intensive in both reading and practice and requires considerable engagement from participants.Readings should be completed ahead of sessions and participants need to be willing to put in extra time for the observation and writing exercises. Like any method, ethnography can only be learnt by being done.

2. The course may be especially relevant for students working on a research project that involves, either, fieldwork, or another kind of interpretive engagement with primary data sources. However, anyone interested in the epistemological, political and ethical implications of studying power through immersion and close empirical observation is most welcome to enrol.

Learning commitment

As a participant in this course, you will engage in a variety of learning activities designed to deepen your understanding and mastery of the subject matter. While the cornerstone of your learning experience will be the daily live teaching sessions, which total three hours each day across the five days of the course, your learning commitment extends beyond these sessions.

Upon payment and registration for the course, you will gain access to our Learning Management System (LMS) approximately two weeks before the course start date. Here, you will have access to course materials such as pre-course readings. The time commitment required to familiarise yourself with the content and complete any pre-course tasks is estimated to be approximately 20 hours per week leading up to the start date.

During the course week, you are expected to dedicate approximately two-three hours per day to prepare and work on assignments.

Each course offers the opportunity to be awarded three ECTS credits. Should you wish to earn a 4th credit, you will need to complete a post-course assignment, which will involve approximately 25 hours of work.

This comprehensive approach ensures that you not only attend the live sessions but also engage deeply with the course material, participate actively, and complete assessments to solidify your learning.


This course description may be subject to subsequent adaptations (e.g. taking into account new developments in the field, participant demands, group size, etc.). Registered participants will be informed at the time of change.

By registering for this course, you confirm that you possess the knowledge required to follow it. The instructor will not teach these prerequisite items. If in doubt, please contact us before registering.