BASS Politics and Criminology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
The Ethnographer's Craft

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOAN20841
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


This core methods course offers students the opportunity to conduct self-directed ethnographic research based on their own interests and questions. It focuses on how to design, carry out, and write up a short ethnographic research project. It explores both the practical and conceptual issues raised by anthropology’s primary methodology, including the ethics of participant observation, the politics of “writing up” one’s findings, and how the historical, political, and cultural context of research can condition ethnographic writing. As a practical, hands-on course, it revolves around individual students’ own research projects and explores both the possibilities and the challenges associated with conducting ethnographic work. This course is aimed at students who will be writing a dissertation in social anthropology


SOAN20841 pre-reqs - P or C: any 40 credits of level one or two SOAN courses

Restricted to BSocSc Social Anthropology, BA Social Sciences with SOAN pathways, and joint degree students with SOAN in SALC (Archaeology, Linguistics, Religion).

Pre-requisites/co-requisites - any 40 credits of level one or two SOAN units.


This course aims to familiarise students with the practice of (and debates surrounding) ethnographic research. Students will acquire and develop ethnographic skills by undertaking a short research project, which they will design and carry out themselves. This work in progress will be closely monitored and developed through collective reflections and discussions in class. This course is aimed at students who will be writing a dissertation in social anthropology.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit, successful students will have acquired:

• An understanding of the questions and complexities raised by ethnographic fieldwork;

• Skills to apply knowledge and theory in defining a research area and identifying appropriate ways of dealing with practical and conceptual problems;

• Initial experience of participant observation and the “writing up” of fieldwork;

• A better understanding of personal and conceptual relationships in and of the fieldwork site, including an awareness of the politics of fieldwork;

• An appreciation of the fundamental role of ethnography for anthropological knowledge and theory;

Teaching and learning methods

Weekly seminars

Assessment methods

1 x Oral Presentation - 20% (collectively), 1 x 3000 word essay - 80%


Feedback methods

Students will receive feedback on assessed work.

Recommended reading

Recommended reading

- Kelly, Tobias. 2014. “Getting Started: The Search for Anthropological Questions.” In Doing Anthropological Research, edited by Natalie Konopinski, 6-20. Abingdon: Routledge.

- Shah, Alpa. 2017. “Ethnography? Participant Observation, A Potentially Revolutionary Praxis.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 45-59.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Fieldwork 10
Lectures 20
Project supervision 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 160

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Méadhbh McIvor Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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