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Large Issues, Small Places: Theorising 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.


This course introduces students in Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology to the highest standards of empirical reasoning employed in the discipline. It particularly emphasises the conditions and art of doing ethnographic research, how it is made public in textual and audiovisual reports, and how it can be made useful for policy. The course prepares students for the organisation of their individual research project by (a) rehearsing the anti-colonial critique of ethnography; (b) providing an alternative post-colonial definition of the uses of ethnography; and (c) teaching how to employ these skills and ideas in a research proposal. It theorises ethnography as a process of forging and maintaining social relationships between researcher, researched, and audience. This relationship is multimodal: it not only encompasses the study of policy in practice and activism, but also reflects on ethnographic communication by multiple media (objects, texts, images, sounds) used by all three parties, thus integrating media studies, material culture studies and visual ethnography in its practice. The course tries above all to prepare students for doing ethnographic research themselves.
Keywords: ethnography, globalisation, scale and culture; the ethnography of policy; multimodal anthropology; methodology; ethics.

Course objectives

Students who follow this course will develop:

  • a foundation in the philosophy of the ethnographic research process under global conditions

  • the academic skills of generalising about global issues and theories by means of small-scale and concrete empirical data

  • an understanding of policy relationships and their role in research collaborations

  • an understanding of the multi-modal process of ethnographic communication

  • skills in setting up, executing and presenting the results of an ethnographic project


September, October, November for all students. See the schedule for details.

Mode of instruction

Total: 10 EC = 280 study hours (sbu)

  • Lectures

  • Group discussions

  • Study of literature

Assesment method

Weekly assignments


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

Reading list

  • Articles from electronic journals (to be announced).

  • Anna Tsing (2015) The Mushroom at the End of the World. On the Possibilities of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  • Miscellaneous articles from: Robben, Antonius C.G.M., and Jeffrey A. Sluka, eds. (2012) Ethnographic Fieldwork: An Anthropological Reader. Malden, MA, Blackwell.

Registration in uSis

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

Contact information

Prof.dr. Peter Pels