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Large Issues, Small Places: Theorizing Ethnographic Research


Admission requirements

Only students who are admitted to the master’s programme Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology can take part in this course. (See


This course introduces incoming MA-students 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 typical emphasis in the Leiden programme on the cross-fertilization of anthropological and sociological perspectives: no distinction between a more “cultural” and a more ‘developmental’ perspective is maintained, and we attempt to deconstruct ‘development’ by means of a focus on culture just as much as we hope to criticize the notion of ‘culture’ by a focus on long-term, and varied, processes of development. However, this course is mostly meant as an introduction to the practice of ethnographic research, with its predominant focus on the issues of the writing of ethnography (and therefore the problematic of ‘culture’), the philosophy of science behind the practice of research, the reading and judging of an ethnography, and some of the basic theoretical principles behind ethnographic methods and ethics, and the setting up of ethnographic objects and projects.

Keywords: ethnography, culture and development; the scales of ethnographic research; method; ethics; the ethnographic object; the ethnographic project.

Course objectives

Students who follow this course will develop:

  • a foundation in the philosophy of ethnography under globalization

  • the academic skills of reasoning 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


Please see the schedule
Location: Pieter de la Court Building, Wassenaarseweg 52, Leiden

Mode of instruction

Total: 10 EC = 280 study hours (sbu)

  • Lectures

  • Group discussions

  • Study of literature

Assesment method

Bi-weekly assignments


Blackboard will be used to make information and assignments available. Blackboard module for this course wil be availavle for registration from the end of August 2016.

Reading list

  • Articles from electronic journals (to be announced).

  • James Ferguson (1999), Expectations of Modernity. Myths and meanings of urban life on the Zambian Copperbelt (Berkeley: University of California Press). Book has to be read before week 38.

  • Miscellaneous articles from: Robben, Antonius C.G.M., and Jeffrey A. Sluka, eds. (2007) Ethnographic Fieldwork: An Anthropological Reader. Malden, MA, Blackwell. (this book is also used for ‘Doing Ethnography’ course).

Registration in uSis

All participants must register in uSis for the lecture series of this course. (Registration for the exam is not required since there is no classical examination.)

Contact infromation

Prof.dr. Peter Pels