Ethnographic Methods

Lecturer: Daniel Conway

Modality: In presence

Week 1: 12-16 August 2024


Workshop Contents and Objectives

Ethnographic methods are increasingly being used in diverse and creative ways in both long-term and short-term studies across the social sciences. This course provides a comprehensive introduction to the technical, practical and philosophical issues that arise when employing both traditional and innovative approaches.
Ethnographers immerse themselves in a setting for a period of time, listen, ask questions; and supplement observation with the analysis of interview data, documents, and visual, digital, and creative data. Ethnographic methods have proven to provide valid, valuable and rich contextual data with which to understand complex social issues and address policy concerns. The course addresses both practical and theoretical issues through: the history of ethnography and contemporary applications; plan and design of a project; accessing the field; writing fieldnotes; making sense of observational data and telling credible stories; multi-sited, virtual, visual and sensory ethnography; short-term and applied ethnography; reflexivity and the emotions in fieldwork. The course will also discuss recent debates and controversies in ethnographic methods research including ethics and power relations when conducting research. The course is practical, encouraging participants to relate topics to their own research interests and to carry out and begin to analyse micro-observational studies.

Key topics covered include:

  • Origins and history of ethnographic methods
  • Ethics, consent, safety and ethnography
  • Participating and observing
  • Interview methods: access, rapport and techniques
  • Positionality and identity: reflexivity, auto-ethnography, being an insider and/or outsider
  • Writing and using fieldnotes
  • Doing visual, online/virtual ethnographies
  • Analysing ethnographic date: inductive and deductive coding, analysing photographs, film and online sources.
  • Controversies and debates: managing unequal power dynamics in ethnography, ‘over-rapport’/losing ‘perspective’, ethnography with marginalised or ‘vulnerable’ groups, ethnography with privileged/powerful groups and institutions
  • Philosophical debates: positivism, post-modernism, grounded theory, feminist, queer and post/de-colonial ethnography

Indicative practical content will include writing interview guides, research interview practice, participant observation exercises, designing consent forms, writing fieldnotes, using film and the web for ethnographic research exercises, coding and analysis of data. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss, refine and get feedback on their own ethnographic research plans and projects.

By the end of the course, participants should:

  • Be able to make close, theory-oriented observations through participation, observation, and conversation.
  • Be equipped to record and analyse the data produced through diverse methods. Take a critical and creative approach to ethnographic methods and understand how they can be combined with other methods of data collection for a range of social, political and policy research areas.
  • Be in a position to present, and defend the quality and value of ethnographic interpretations.



The course is introductory but intensive, rapidly taking participants from a beginner to an advanced level. Some prior familiarity with qualitative methods and background knowledge of the philosophy of social science is required. Participants should be aware that the practical decisions to be made when conducting ethnographic research are necessarily theoretically informed and will vary with each practitioner's orientation. The course aims to equip participants with the knowledge required to make those decisions for themselves in practice.


Recommended readings or preliminary material

  • O'Reilly, K. 2009. Key Concepts in Ethnography, London: Sage
  • O'Reilly, K. 2012. Ethnographic Methods, 2nd. Ed. London: Routledge (or 1st ed.)
  • Fetterman, D. (2009). Ethnography: Step by Step, Sage
  • Boellstorff, T. et. Al. 2012. Ethnography and Virtual Worlds. Princeton University Press.
  • Conway, D. (2008) ‘Masculinities and narrating the past: experiences of researching white men who refused to serve in the apartheid army’, Qualitative Research, 8(3): 347-354.
  • Browne, K. and Nash, C. (2010) Queer Methods and Methodologies: Intersecting Queer Theories and Social Science Research. Routledge.
  • Pink, S. (2009) Doing Sensory Ethnography, London: Sage

Additional recommended readings to accompany the course will be shared in advance and during the course. All will be Open Access.