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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.