PhD Social Anthropology / Programme details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Issues in Ethnographic Research I

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOAN70641
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


 This module is the first of two training modules for postgraduate research students who intend to use ethnographic research methods in their doctoral study. It is targeted at social anthropology students on the MA in Anthropological Research (MAAR) and those in the first year of a PhD in Social Anthropology. The module is designed in such a way as to facilitate the development of students' own research projects. It is not a methods course but a forum for discussing what most anthropologists would see as a, if not the, core aspect of their disciplinary identity: ethnography. Since most students will already be familiar with what ethnographic research entails, the module looks at a set of particular concerns when developing a research project. It focuses on the possibilities opened up by an ethnographic approach, on the formulation of research questions in ways that are suitable to such an approach, and on potential problems arising from it (and how to go about solving them).


This module is the first of two advanced research training modules for postgraduate students who intend to use ethnographic research methods in their doctoral study or in similar advanced research projects. It requires prior knowledge of anthropology as a discipline and of ethnographic research methods. The module addresses a set of particular concerns when developing a research project. In practice this will revolve around individual students' own prospective research projects, whether they are actually preparing to execute them in doctoral studies during the coming year or not.

Learning outcomes

 At the end of the module students will be able to construct a coherent outline of an anthropological research problem, to formulate a set of research questions and subquestions suitable to be explored through ethnographic research, to specify concrete research methods that are likely to lead to answers to those questions, and to develop strategies to deal with ethical issues that this research may raise.

Teaching and learning methods

 The module consists of eight three-hour sessions. In addition to self-study through reading and note-taking, attendance at the seminars is a key requirement. Seminars will consist of a mixture of lecturing, individual contributions and group discussion. For this reason, and out of sheer courtesy, it is important that you inform the lecturer by email of any absences in advance.

The exercises set for this module—to be prepared, of course, before the relevant sessions—will often run 'ahead' of the actual phase of research proposal writing you will find yourself in. This is done on purpose: of course we do not expect you to come up with a full-blown research proposal—with research questions, methods, ethical considerations, etc—in your first semester. If we expected that, why would we even have this first year? Your final research proposal will be the product of (and the crown on) this year. The exercises are therefore really conceived of as exercises: as initial, rough attempts to engage in the construction of a research proposal. These initial—no doubt imperfect—attempts will allow us to identify and address areas to work on, gaps to fill, lines of exploration to take up and to drop, and so on. It is precisely in this way that the module is ultimately designed to facilitate the development of your individual research proposal.

Assessment methods

One 4000-word assessed essay

Recommended reading

 This outline includes a preliminary reading list, organised per session topic. Some sessions have key readings (same for all) and sometimes we will distribute reading tasks. As for additional literature, use your critical sense and imagination when deciding what to read. A large list is included below. Your guiding selection principle should be your own research project-in-development. Use the library catalogues, www search engines, book tables of contents, indexes and cross-references to find additional appropriate texts. This is itself an exercise that forms part of the making of virtually every anthropological piece of work.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 3
Independent study hours
Independent study 147

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Karen Sykes Unit coordinator

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