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MA Political Science - Political Theory Pathway (Research Route)

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Practising Participant Observation

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOAN60891
Credit rating 5
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


  • To introduce methodology of ethnography as a means of generating research evidence, and to relate the forms of knowledge it generates to other methods used in the social sciences
  • To explore what participant observation and ethnographic research mean in practice and how they can be used in the research process
  • To give students experience in performing, analysing and reflecting on ethnographic practice

Learning outcomes

Students will be introduced to a range of theoretical and practical approaches to research and representation that are grounded in participant observation, including classic fieldwork techniques, visual and sensory methods and new experimental approaches.


Teaching and learning methods

2 x 3 hour sessions

Assessment methods

One 1500 word essay

Deadline for submission of assignment: - Thursday 15 December 2022

Recommended reading

Readings:  In preparation for the first workshop, please read:

Perrin, Jim. ‘Country diary: boulderers make the most of the rocky terrain’. The Guardian 31 Oct 2020 (available via blackboard)

And look at a minimum of one of the ethnographic monographs in the list. Many of these are available as ebooks via the University Library. Skim read it and identify how the ethnographer went about their research.

Ethnographic monographs:

Bourgois, P. 1996 (2003) In Search of Respect. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Briggs, J. L. 1970. Never in Anger: portrait of an Eskimo family. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Busby, C. 2000. The performance of gender: an anthropology of everyday life in a South Indian fishing village. London: Athlone Press.

Desmond, M. 2007. On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Evans, G. 2006. Educational Failure and Working Class White Children in Britain. Basingstoke: Palgrave

Holmes, S. 2013. Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Indigenous Mexican Farmworkers in the United States. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Prentice, R. 2015. Thiefing a chance: factory work, illicit labor and neoliberal subjectivities in Trinidad. Boulder: University Press of Colorado.

Stoller, Paul. 1989. The Taste of Ethnographic Things: The Senses in Anthropology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Venkatesh, S. 2003. Gang leader for a day. London: The Penguin Press.

Wacquant, L. 2004. Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Further readings

The following reading list is provided as a resource. Some are preliminary texts which focus specifically on ethnographic and/or anthropological research methods, while others are included because they exemplify the way in which a particular anthropologist discusses their methods of research. You are not expected to read them all but some may be referred to in the course.


Agar, H. 1981. The Professional Stranger: an informal introduction to ethnography. New Jersey: Academic Press

Banks, M. 2001 Visual Methods in Social Research. London: Sage. Press

Behar, R. 1996. The vulnerable observer: anthropology that breaks your heart. Boston: Beacon Press.

Bernard, H.R. 2005 Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative. Alta Mira Press.

Blanes, R.L. 2006 The atheist anthropologist: Believers and non-believers in anthropological fieldwork, in Social Anthropology, 14/2:223-224

Bourdieu, P. 1996. Understanding. In Theory, Culture and Society 13(2): 17-37

Bourgois, P. 1996. Confronting Anthropology, Education, and Inner-City Apartheid. American Anthropologist 98(2):249-258.

Burawoy, M. 1991. Ethnography Unbound: Power and Resistance in the Modern Metropolis. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Comaroff, J. and J. Comaroff 2003. Ethnography on an awkward scale: Postcolonial anthropology and the violence of abstraction, in Ethnography, 4/2: 147-179.

Desmond, M. 2006. Becoming a Firefighter. Ethnography 7: 387-421.

Ellen, R. 1984. Ethnographic Research: a guide to general conduct. London: Academic Press.

Emerson, R.M., Fretz, R.I. & Shaw, L.I. 1995. Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Evans, G. 2012.Practising Participant Observation: an anthropologist’s account. Journal of Organizational Ethnography. 1 (1):96-106.

Gardner, K. 1999. Location and relocation: home, “the field” and anthropological ethics. In Watson, C. W. (ed.), Being There: Fieldwork in Anthropology, pp. 49–74. London: Pluto Press.

Geertz, C. 1973. Thick Description in Interpretation of Cultures. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Goffman, E. 1989. On Fieldwork. Journal

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Practical classes & workshops 6
Independent study hours
Independent study 44

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Meghan Rose Donnelly Unit coordinator

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