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Ethnographic and Other Field Research Methods: Advanced

Cai Wilkinson
cai.wilkinson@deakin.edu.au

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.

  @caiwilkinson

Course Dates and Times

Monday 5 – Friday 9 August

14:00–15:30 / 16:00–17:30 (ending slightly earlier on the last Friday)

Prerequisite Knowledge

This is an advanced course in interpretive-qualitative research methods. It is suitable for participants who have completed at least part of their fieldwork. As such, I will assume you 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.

If you have not yet commenced fieldwork or if you are only in the early stages, you may register for this course subject to successfully passing Ethnographic and Other Field Research Methods: Introduction or its equivalent. In such cases, additional practical exercises and/or readings may be required to ensure sufficient preparation.

Finally, while not compulsory, students taking this course will benefit from having taken at least one course that includes engagement with the methodological underpinnings of interpretive and qualitative research, ideally including some readings on the philosophy of social science. Examples include:

Introduction to Interpretive Research Designs

Knowing and the Known: The Philosophy and Methodology of the Social Sciences

Tasks for ECTS credits

2 credits (pass/fail) Attend at least 90% of course hours, participate fully in in-class activities and carry out the necessary reading and/or other work prior to and after classes.

3 credits (to be graded) As above, plus complete short daily assignments to assess the mastery of material covered in the readings or in class. Produce a learning journal of four 500-word entries, with reflections on topics as they relate to your research project.

4 credits (to be graded) As above, plus complete a short, written assignment requiring integration of material covered during earlier classes. Submit a 1,500-word written report, Ethnography on Trial. Submission deadline will be set during the course. Assignments will be discussed in the final class.


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, we 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.


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 myriad 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 commonly experienced, as well as the ethics and epistemology of interpretive fieldwork.

In contrast to the hands-on approach of the introductory course which is focused on familiarising you 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, you 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 your 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.


Monday
We begin with an overview of the course design, expectations and participant introductions, followed by consideration of the logics and processes of interpretive ethnographic fieldwork in principle and practice. You will raise the key concerns and issues you wish to address over the coming week.

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 in the field and when presenting research.

Wednesday
The previous day’s discussion leads into consideration of the ethics of fieldwork. On this day, we consider the aims of formal ethical requirements and explore ethics as praxis in relation to the protection of participants, and the researcher.

Thursday
We change focus, addressing the question of whether ethnographic research can be considered trustworthy. We put ethnography on trial through engagement with Alice Goffman’s On the Run as well as other works featured in Among Wolves to interrogate how participant-observation ethnography deals with matters of evidence, proof and truth and its underlying knowledge claims.

Friday
We 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. You will make a final presentation reflecting on our discussions over the week in relation to your own research project.


The course uses a combination of presentations by the instructor, group discussions of key readings, and practical exercises. You are encouraged to relate discussion of each day’s topics and questions to your own research projects and perspectives.

Day Topic Details
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

Note

The schedule below outlines the basic structure and content, but it is not the official, final syllabus for the 2019 course.

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

I expect you to draw actively on your own experiences during classes. Please do raise questions pertaining to your own research projects during discussions.

As far as possible, the course will accommodate presentations of, and questions about, students' own work during class time. However, if we get a particularly large class, it may not be possible to accommodate dedicated presentation time for all participants. The structure of classes will be finalised once class size is known.

Day Readings
Note

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

None.

Hardware Requirements

None.

Literature

Required

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

Recommended Courses to Cover After this One

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


Additional Information

Disclaimer

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 in due time.

Note from the Academic Convenors

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, contact the instructor before registering.