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Ethnographic and Other Field Research Methods: Advanced

Cai Wilkinson

Deakin University

Cai Wilkinson is an Associate Professor in International Relations at Deakin University in Australia, with teaching interests in the areas of Critical Security Studies, genders and sexualities in international relations, and intercultural communication.

Her research focuses on how identity shapes people’s individual and collective experiences of in/security, which she investigates using critical interpretive ethnographic methods.

Cai has conducted fieldwork in Kyrgyzstan on societal security and on LGBTQ activism, coached on humanitarian leadership courses and led experiential learning programmes in Japan, the US and Sri Lanka.

She is the author of a number of papers and book chapters that explore how field-based methods can be used to research security, and from 2012–2018 convened the Critical Security Studies Methods Café at the International Studies Association annual convention.


Course Dates and Times

Monday 6 August - Friday 10 August

09:00-10:30 / 11:00-12:30

Prerequisite Knowledge

Note from the Academic Convenors to prospective participants: by registering to this course, you certify that you possess the prerequisite knowledge that is requested to be able to follow this course. The instructor will not teach again these prerequisite items. If you doubt whether you possess that knowledge to a sufficient extent, we suggest you contact the instructor before you proceed to your registration.

This course is designed as an ‘advanced’ course in interpretive-qualitative research methods. It is suitable for participants who have completed at least part of their fieldwork.  As such, it will be assumed that those enrolling in this course already have a reasonable degree of familiarity with the basics of participant-observer/ethnographic research, including how to observe systematically, how to participate, to talk to people and to take field notes.

Students who have not yet commenced their fieldwork or who are only in the early stages may register for this course subject to completing and successfully passing “Field Research I: Practical Introduction to Ethnographic Fieldwork” or its equivalent. In such cases, additional practical exercises and/or readings may be required in order to ensure sufficient preparation.

Finally, while not compulsory, students taking this course will benefit from having taken at least one course that included engagement with the methodological underpinnings of interpretive and qualitative research, ideally including some readings on the philosophy of social science. Examples of such courses in the ECPR Methods School include “Introduction to Interpretive Research Designs” and “Knowing and the Known: The Philosophy and Methodology of the Social Sciences.”

Short Outline

This course will explore the politics, praxis and ethics of fieldwork-based research into socio-political phenomena and practices such as violence, humanitarianism, policy-making, workplace relationships and societal margalisation. Via initial engagement with Timothy Pachirat’s innovative book Among Wolves, participants in this course will discuss issues including ethnographic methods’ knowledge claims, researcher positionality and identity management, researcher relationality, reflexivity, dynamics of power, ethical practices, and how to read and write ethnographic research. The course is not a “how to” for dealing with fieldwork challenges and choices, but rather aims to provide a forum for students who have either completed the fieldwork phase of a research project or who are currently undertaking fieldwork to explore and reflect on issues and debates pertaining to participant-observer ethnography in order to inform and support the further progression and development of their research.

Tasks for ECTS Credits

  • Participants attending the course: 2 credits (pass/fail grade) The workload for the calculation of ECTS credits is based on the assumption that students attend classes and carry out the necessary reading and/or other work prior to, and after, classes.
  • Participants attending the course and completing one task (see below): 3 credits (to be graded)
  • Participants attending the course, and completing two tasks (see below): 4 credits (to be graded)

To receive an additional one credit, participants will need to produce a learning journal with reflections on topics as they relate to one's research project (4 x 500 words).

For two additional credits, participants are required to submit a written report, "Ethnography on Trial" (1500 words).  The submission deadline will be set during the course.

Long Course Outline

The potential of fieldwork to generate novel insights into the working and meaning of socio-political phenomena has been increasingly recognised by scholars in a wide range of subfields of political science, including international relations, policy studies, organisational studies and local and comparative government studies. At the same time, the very flexibility of participant-observer ethnography means that researchers undertaking fieldwork-based research are faced with a myriad of political, ethical, practical, personal local and disciplinary issues that must be navigated and managed as the research project progresses from legwork to fieldwork to deskwork and on to textwork.

This course provides a forum for students who have completed the fieldwork phase of a research project or who are currently undertaking fieldwork to explore and reflect on the issues, challenges and dilemmas that are commonly experienced as well as the ethics and epistemology of interpretive fieldwork. In contrast to the “hands on” approach of the introductory course (SC102A), which is focused on familiarising students with the fundamental principles and methods of interpretive ethnographic fieldwork (observation, participant-observation, interviewing), this course maintains the ethnographic sensibility that is central to fieldwork in that it emphasises observing (reading) and participating (discussing, listening) and reflexivity (analysis, praxis) as a way to develop one’s skill as an ethical and critically reflexive practitioner of ethnographic fieldwork. In doing so, students will gain familiarity with debates about research positionality and relationality, the trustworthiness of ethnographic research, the ethics of fieldwork and how to read and write ethnographic research and consider these issues in relation to their own research.

Timothy Pachirat’s Among Wolves provides the course’s foundational text, with each Act serving as a starting point for discussion of the day’s theme. The course begins on the Monday with an overview of the course design, expectations and participant introductions, followed by consideration of the logics and processes of interpretive ethnographic fieldwork in both principle and practice. This session will also provide an opportunity for students to note the key concerns and issues that they wish to address over the week. On Tuesday we turn our attention to issues of power and positionality, asking how the researcher affects their research and how identities and relationalities can be managed both in the field and when presenting research. This discussion leads into consideration of the ethics of fieldwork on the Wednesday and we will consider the aims of formal ethical requirements as well as exploring ethics as praxis in relation to the protection of participants and also the researcher. Thursday sees a change of focus as we address the question of whether ethnographic research can be considered trustworthy, putting ethnography on trial through engagement with Alice Goffman’s On the Run as well as other works featured in Amongs Wolves in order to interrogate how participant-observation ethnography deals with matters of evidence, proof and truth and its underlying knowledge claims. Finally, on Friday, we will address issues in reading and writing ethnographic research, including moving from the field to the page and creating reader-centred accounts of one’s research. Participants will make a final presentation reflecting on the discussions over the course of the week in relation to their own research project.

The course will utilise a combination of presentations by the instructor, group discussions of key readings and practical exercises. Participants will be encouraged to relate discussion of each day’s topics and questions to their own research projects and perspectives.

Day Topic Details
10. Other topics in p/p/o ethnography and participant observation field research

Open session: content to be determined based on discussions during the week and questions left dangling.


What follows is an overview intended to suggest the overall orientation of the course, rather than to be taken as the official, final syllabus for the 2017 course.  The details of daily readings will be made available to students who register for the course. Some of the topics may be moved to days other than those indicated here. The final syllabus may also include daily homework assignments, possibly involving working in small groups.

To the extent possible, the course will accommodate student presentations of and questions about their own work during class time.  If the class is large, however, it will be very difficult to arrange dedicated presentation time for each student.  Students are always invited to ask questions specific to their own research projects as these are sparked by in-class discussions. These aspects of course design will be determined once the size of the class is known.

Monday 1. Logics of inquiry in interpretive research: Abduction and surprises; Flexibility and exposure; Theorizing from field data

What are the ‘knowledge [a.k.a. truth] conditions’ of ethnographic research?

Readings will include chapters from Schwartz-Shea and Yanow, Interpretive Research Design, and articles by Michael Agar; Karen Locke, Karen Golden-Biddle, and Martha S. Feldman; John Van Maanen et al.; Lee Ann Fujii; Jorg Friedrichs and Friedrich Kratochwil; and Jörg Strübing.

Monday 2. Research writing as ways of ‘worldmaking’: Issues of evidence and ‘proof’

Establishing the trustworthiness of research findings.


Readings: Alice Goffman‘s 2014 On the Run along with critical reviews will constitute the case study for the discussion. Other readings will be taken from the work of Joseph R. Gusfield, Donald E. Polkinghorne, Donald N. McCloskey, Karen M. Fierke, and Peregrine Schwartz-Shea

Tuesday 3. Power issues in the field: Researcher identities

Managing researcher identity, in all its aspects, in the field: being a researcher and an observer (with whatever degree of participation) at the same time. 

Readings will include chapters and articles by Herbert Gans, Juliette Koning, and Teun Zuiderent.


Tuesday 4. Researcher relations with research participants

Involving situational members: issues in ‘member-checking’, collaborative authorship, consulting/advice-giving.

Readings will be taken from Sierk Ybema et al., Organizational ethnography, Davydd J. Greenwood, and Edgar H. Schein.

Wednesday 5. ‘Native,’ ‘at-home’ ethnography: Insider-outsider standing and knowledge claims

Bridging the epistemological differences between researcher and researched:  ‘outsiders’ and ‘insiders’, ‘native’ ethnographers, (participatory) action research.  

Readings will include the work of Michael Agar, Kirin Narayan, Mats Alvesson, Frances B. Henderson, and others.

Wednesday 6. Positionality and power: Reflexivity in the field and on the page

Can ‘objectivity’ be possible when the researcher is immersed in a field setting, physically and emotionally? Accounting for ‘interaction effects’ through 3 types of positional reflexivity.

Read: articles or chapters by Carol Cohn, Timothy Pachirat, Samer Shehata, Claire Wilkinson, C. E. Zirakzadeh, Michel Anteby, Mitchell Duneier, Adriana Petryna, and others.

Thursday 7. Ethnography and research ethics I: Protecting research participants—beyond ethics review committees

Protecting research subjects/participants from the researcher: historical background for concerns with research ethics vis à vis human subjects/participants in research. Facing ethical issues in one’s field research:  protecting participants, informed consent, deception or covert research, and other issues.

Read: articles by Lee Ann Fujii, Kai Erikson, Richard A. Leo, Howard S. Becker, and others.

8. Ethnography and research ethics II: Protecting the researcher

Protecting field researchers from danger.

Readings: selected chapters from Lee-Treweek and Linkogle, Danger in the field: Risk and ethics in social research and articles by Elisabeth Jean Wood, Mark de Rond, and others.

Friday 9. Issues in evaluation and writing

Evaluative ‘standards’ for field research: trustworthiness (of research, of the researcher) and the language of ‘rigor’ and objectivity, ‘reliability’ and ‘validity.’

Read: articles and chapters by, among others, Mitchell Duneier, Laurel Richardson, and Tony J. Watson.

1 Introductions and course overview

Introduction to the course, participants and the cast of Among Wolves.

Core reading: Pachirat 2018, Act 1

The logics and processes of interpretive ethnographic fieldwork

What are the “knowledge claims” of ethnographic research? What is fieldwork and how does it fit with research?

Core reading: Pachirat 2018, Act 2

2 Power, participation and positionalities: reflexivity, identity management and knowledge claims

How can the researcher manage multiple identities in the field? How does power matter? What are the implications of inhabiting multiple positionalities for the researcher and her relationships with others, and for the presentation of research?

Core reading: Pachirat 2018, Acts 3 and 4

3 The ethics of ethnographic research

Whom do/don’t ethics protect and why? What is/isn’t ethical research and from whose perspective? How can the research manage ethical dilemmas?

Core reading: Pachirat 2018, Act 5

4 Ethnography on trial: knowledge claims, evidence, proof, truth

Is ethnographic research trustworthy? How can we establish the trustworthiness of our research accounts and those of others?

Core reading: Pachirat, Act 6; Goffman 2014.

5 Reading and writing ethnographic research

Final presentations and discussion of outstanding issues, including linking fieldwork and theory and moving from fieldwork to deskwork to textwork.

Core reading: Pachirat 2018, Act 7. Van Maanen 2011.


The schedule below outlines the basic structure and content of the course, but it is not the official, final syllabus for the 2018 course.

Full details of required and additional readings will be made available to students who register for the course once the course is confirmed. The final syllabus will include details of practical exercises, which participants are required to complete as part of the course and which will inform class discussion each day.

Students are expected to actively draw on their own experiences during classes and are encouraged to raise questions pertaining to their research projects during discussions. As far as possible, the course will accommodate student presentations of and questions about their own work during class time. However, in the event of a large class, it may not be possible to accommodate dedicated presentation time for all students. The structure of classes will be finalised once class size is known.

Day Readings

Daily readings will consist of journal articles, conference papers, and book chapters to be drawn from, among others:

1.  Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine and Yanow, Dvora. 2012. Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes.  New York:  Routledge.

2.  Goffman, Alice. 2014 On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

3.  Lee-Treweek, Geraldine and Linkogle, Stephanie, eds. 2000. Danger in the field: Risk and ethics in social research. London: Routledge.

3. Schatz, Edward, ed., 2009. Political ethnography: What immersion contributes to the study of power.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press.

4. Ybema, Sierk et al., eds. 2009. Organizational ethnography.  London:  Sage.

Details will be provided to those who register for the course.


Please see below for core literature. The full reading list will be provided to registered participants and will be drawn from books, journal articles, blogs and other relevant sources.

Software Requirements


Hardware Requirements




  1. Goffman, Alice. 2014. On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
  2. Pachirat, Timothy. 2018. Among Wolves. New York: Routledge.
  3. Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine and Yanow, Dvora. 2012. Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes.  New York:  Routledge.
  4. Van Maanen, John. 2011. Tales of the Field, 2nd edition. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Plus at least one of the following books - ideally more if time, energy and resources permit!

Autesserre, Séverine. 2014. Peaceland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Boo, Katherine. 2012. Behind the Beautiful Forevers. New York: Random House

Duneier, Mitchell, 1999. Sidewalk. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Ho, Karen. 2009. Liquidated. Durham: Duke University Press

Scott, James. 1985. Weapons of the Weak. New Haven: Yale University Press

Pachirat, Timothy. 2011. Every Twelve Seconds. New Haven: Yale University Press

Tsing, Anna. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Vitebsky, Piers. 2005. The Reindeer People. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company

Wacquant, Loïc. 2003. Body and Soul. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Recommended Courses to Cover Before this One

<p><strong>Summer School </strong></p> <p>Ethnographic and Other Field Research Methods: Intro</p> <p>Introduction to Interpretive Research Designs</p> <p>Knowing and the Known: The Philosophy and Methodology of the Social Sciences</p> <p><strong>Winter School</strong></p> <p>Introduction to Qualitative Interpretive Methods</p> <p>Knowing and the Known: The Philosophy and Methodology of the Social Sciences</p>

Recommended Courses to Cover After this One

<p><strong>Summer School </strong></p> <p>Introduction to Interpretive Research Designs</p> <p>Knowing and the Known: The Philosophy and Methodology of the Social Sciences</p> <p>Expert Interviews for Qualitative Data Generation</p> <p><strong>Winter School </strong></p> <p>Writing Ethnographic and Other Qualitative/Interpretive Research: An Inductive Approach</p> <p>Knowing and the Known: The Philosophy and Methodology of the Social Sciences</p> <p>Interpretive interviewing</p>

Additional Information


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.