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Large Issues, Small Places: Theorizing Ethnographic Research


N.B.: Completing this course is required to start your Fieldwork/Internship, Thesis Seminar CADS and Master Thesis Project CADS.

Course Description

This course introduces incoming master’s programme students of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology to the highest standards of empirical reasoning employed in the discipline, with a particular emphasis on the art of ethnographic research. It uses the Leiden programme’s typical emphasis on the cross-fertilization of anthropological and sociological perspectives, integrating a ‘cultural’ and ‘developmental’ perspectives. We deconstruct ‘development’ by focusing on culture, but criticize the very notion of ‘culture’ by focusing on long-term and varied processes of development. This course is mostly meant as an introduction to ethnographic research, and the translation processes that are inherent to it. The course pays attention to multimodal approaches to ethnography, the philosophy of science behind the practice of research, the reading/viewing and judging of ethnography (in textual and multimodal forms), some of the basic theoretical principles undergirding ethnographic methods and ethics, and the setting up of ethnographic objects and projects.

The course teaches the theory of ethnography as a process of forging and maintaining social relationships that need to be historically and globally contextualised. Those relationships are based on a triangle of researcher, researched, and readers/viewers/listeners (audience). While ethnography historically presumed a dyad of expert researcher and ignorant researched, contemporary ethnography emphasises that each of these positions can overlap with the others. We perceive research relations (with changing positions between researcher and researched; researcher and audience; researched and audience) as a process of communicative exchanges mediated through multiple modalities (objects, texts, images, sounds) used by all sides of the triangle. The course’s approach therefore integrates media studies, material culture studies, and visual anthropology in its theory of ethnography. This includes the wide variety of online communication through diverse media, reflections on multimodal communication, complementing and sometimes even replacing face-to-face research relations. The course is build around the exploration of several thematic fields, which together create a context in which each of the CADS Master specialisations can be in conversation with each other, and where students gain a working knowledge of the specialisations, Global Ethnography, Sociology of Policy in Practice, and Visual Ethnography.

Course objectives

Students who follow this course will develop:

  • a foundation in the philosophy of global ethnography

  • the academic skills to reason about large issues in relation to small-scale empirical data

  • the academic skills necessary to translate theoretical insights into concrete research data and vice versa

  • a rethinking of the basic uses of the concepts of ‘culture’ and ‘development’

  • skills in presenting the relevance and importance of an ethnographic project

  • an understanding of the methodological implications (restrictions, possibilities and challenges) for maintaining research relations, also in situations when off-line communication is restricted and on-line communication increases.


Please see the schedule.

Mode of instruction

Total: 10 ECTS = 280 study hours (sbu)

  • Lectures, twice a week

  • Group discussions

  • Study of literature

Assesment method

Written assignments.

Registration in My Studymap

Registration for the lectures in My Studymap is mandatory for all students. Registration closes 5 days before the start of the course. Carefully read all information about the procedures and deadlines for registering for courses and exams.

Confirming your exams

Students need not register for the examination via My Studymap, because this course does not include a single final examination.


Brightspace is the digital learning environment of Leiden University. The Brightspace module for this course will be available for registration by the end of August. Brightspace gives access to course announcements and electronic study material. Assignments will also be submitted in Brightspace. Brightspace informs about announcements and changes in a course. It is advised to check Brightspace on a daily base to remain informed about rooms, schedules, deadlines, and details regarding assignments. Lecturers assume that all students read information posted on Brightspace.

  • How to login
    The homepage for Brightspace is:
    Please log in with your ULCN-account and personal password. On the left you will see an overview of My Courses.
    To get access to your courses in Brightspace you need to be registered in My Studymap for these courses.

Reading list

To be announced.

Contact information

Dr. E. de Maaker Dr. R.K. Ochigame Prof. dr. Marja Spierenburg