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Ethnographic Field Research Methods: Issues and Interpretations

Cai Wilkinson
cai.wilkinson@deakin.edu.au

Deakin University

Cai Wilkinson is an Associate Professor in International Relations at Deakin University in Australia, with teaching interests in the areas of Critical Security Studies, genders and sexualities in international relations, and intercultural communication.

Her research focuses on how identity shapes people’s individual and collective experiences of in/security, which she investigates using critical interpretive ethnographic methods.

Cai has conducted fieldwork in Kyrgyzstan on societal security and on LGBTQ activism, coached on humanitarian leadership courses and led experiential learning programmes in Japan, the US and Sri Lanka.

She is the author of a number of papers and book chapters that explore how field-based methods can be used to research security, and from 2012–2018 convened the Critical Security Studies Methods Café at the International Studies Association annual convention.

  @caiwilkinson

Course Dates and Times

Monday 10ꟷFriday 14 August 2020
2 hours of live teaching per day
Courses will be either morning or afternoon to suit participants’ requirements

Prerequisite Knowledge

This is an advanced course in interpretive-qualitative research methods for students who have completed at least part of their fieldwork. 

You should already be reasonably familiar with the basics of participant-observer/ethnographic research, including how to observe systematically, how to participate, to talk to people and take field notes. 

This course is not a how-to for dealing with fieldwork challenges and choices, but rather aims to provide a forum for students who have either completed the fieldwork phase of a research project or who are currently undertaking fieldwork to explore and reflect on issues and debates pertaining to participant-observer ethnography in order to inform and support the further progression and development of their research.

If you have not yet commenced your fieldwork or you are only in the early stages, you should first complete and pass Ethnographic Field Research: Data Generation Methods or its equivalent. In such cases, additional practical exercises and/or readings may be required to ensure sufficient preparation.

Finally, while not compulsory, students taking this course will benefit from having taken at least one course that included engagement with the methodological underpinnings of interpretive and qualitative research, ideally including some readings on the philosophy of social science. At the very least, you should have read: 

Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine and Yanow, Dvora. 2012
Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes
New York: Routledge

Yanow, Dvora and Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine, eds. 2014
Interpretation and Method: Empirical Research Methods and the Interpretive Turn, 2nd edition
Armonk, NY: M E Sharpe (Part I)


Short Outline

This seminar-type course provides a highly interactive online teaching and learning environment, using state of the art online pedagogical tools. It is designed for a demanding audience (researchers, professional analysts, advanced students) and capped at a maximum of 12 participants so that the Instructor can cater to the specific needs of each individual.

Purpose of the course

This course will explore the politics, praxis and ethics of fieldwork-based research into socio-political phenomena and practices such as violence, humanitarianism, policy-making, workplace relationships and societal marginalisation. Via initial engagement with Timothy Pachirat’s innovative book Among Wolves, we will discuss issues including ethnographic methods’ knowledge claims, researcher positionality and identity management, researcher relationality, reflexivity, dynamics of power, ethical practices, and how to read and write ethnographic research. 

You are strongly encouraged to relate discussion of each day’s topics and questions to your own research projects and perspectives. 

ECTS Credits

3 credits Engage fully with class activities 
4 credits Complete a post-class assignment


Long Course Outline

Day 1

We begin with an overview of the course design, expectations and participant introductions, followed by consideration of the logics and processes of interpretive ethnographic fieldwork in both principle and practice. The live session will also give you a chance to note the key concerns and issues you wish to address over the week. 

Day 2

We turn our attention to issues of power and positionality, asking how the researcher affects their research and how identities and relationalities can be managed, both in the field and when presenting research.

Day 3

The previous day’s discussion leads into consideration of the ethics of fieldwork. We consider the aims of formal ethical requirements as well as exploring ethics as praxis in relation to the protection of participants and also the researcher. 

Day 4

We shift focus, addressing the question of whether ethnographic research can be considered trustworthy, interrogating how ethnographic methods deal with matters of evidence, proof and truth, and its underlying knowledge claims. 

Day 5

Finally, we address issues in reading and writing ethnographic research, including moving from the field to the page and creating reader-centred accounts of one’s research. The day’s live session will be a plenary at which you will make a final presentation reflecting on the discussions over the course of the week in relation to your own research project.


How the course will work online

We will use a daily combination of:

  • Pre-class viewing pre-recorded lectures/video presentations (30ꟷ90 mins) and completion of assigned readings (these can be undertaken before the course starts);
  • Live seminars, Q&A sessions, small-group discussions, debriefs on post-class exercises, using Zoom (120 mins each day);
  • Post-class exercises (60ꟷ120 mins)

You are expected to undertake all pre- and post-class activities each day, and will be required to maintain a ‘field journal’ of your reflections on the class discussion forum.

Moodle and Zoom will function as the two main platforms for the course. We’ll use a group chat to support discussions, answer questions, and share information and supplementary resources. 

You can sign up for scheduled one-to-one video consultations with the Instructor to discuss course topics and/or your own research.


Additional Information

Disclaimer

This course description may be subject to subsequent adaptations (e.g. taking into account new developments in the field, participant demands, group size, etc). Registered participants will be informed at the time of change.

By registering for this course, you confirm that you possess the knowledge required to follow it. The instructor will not teach these prerequisite items. If in doubt, please contact us before registering.