Doing ethnography

Methodology courses and philosophy of science

Course information

ECTS: 2.5
Number of sessions: 4
Hours per session: 3
Course fee: 

  • free for PhD candidates of the Graduate School
  • € 475,- for non-members
  • Consult our enrolment policy for more information.


Telephone: +31 (0)10 4082607 (Graduate School)

Session 1
May 21 (Tuesday) 2019
Polak building (directions), room POLAK 1-23

Session 2
May 28 (Tuesday) 2019
Sanders building (directions), room S1-09

Session 3
June 4 (Tuesday) 2019
Van der Goot building (directions), room M2-06)

Session 4
June 11 (Tuesday) 2019
Theil building (directions), room C2-4


This course focuses on the practicalities of ethnographic fieldwork in settings such as classrooms, homes, streets, court rooms and refugee camps. During the course you will learn how to conduct ethnographic research methods in practice; e.g. how to ‘hang around’ and how to participate and observe in the field. Before doing ethnography, we will discuss the basic theoretical, methodological and epistemological foundations of ethnography. We will also discuss ethical dilemmas and your own social responsibility while doing ethnography. The ethnographic approaches covered in this course can be applied in all social science research fields, such as sociology, anthropology, history, education, public administration, criminology and communication studies. 

Aims and working method

There will be a combination of lectures, practical assignments and discussion. Throughout the course, you will be asked to relate the protocols and methodology of ethnography to your own research interests. The intent is to build a foundation for understanding basic epistemological, methodological and ethical questions regarding the practice of ethnographic fieldwork methods, in particular participant observation, and the writing and processing of ethnographic field notes. 

Learning objectives

After the course, you will have: 

  • A basic knowledge of the practicalities in ethnographic fieldwork;
  • a basic understanding of the theoretical and epistemological foundations of ethnography;
  • an understanding of the methodological challenges of ethnographic research;
  • an awareness of potential ethical issues, and 
  • an understanding of the dynamics between theory, fieldwork practice and writing up of results.

Session descriptions

Session 1:
What is ethnography?

  • Foundations of ethnographic research
  • Theoretical and epistemological considerations
  • Method or methodology
  • Variations in ethnography

Recommended reading: 
Gobo, G. (2008). Doing ethnography. Sage. [Part 1: The Methodology]

Additional reading: 
Malinowski, B. (1922), Argonauts of the Western Pacific. [Chapter 1]

Session 2:
Doing Ethnography

  • Gaining access to research sites; selecting sites and participants 
  • Doing participant observation and other data collection techniques
  • Ethical dilemmas and the role of the researcher

Home assignment:
Doing a participant observation [present results in session 3]

Recommended reading: 

  • Brockmann, M. (2011) Problematising short-term participant observation and multi-method ethnographic studies, Ethnography and Education, 6(2): 229-243.
  • Gobo, G. (2008). Doing ethnography. Sage. [Part 2: Working the Field]

Additional reading: 
Rabinow, P. (2007). Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco: with a New Preface by the Author. Univ of California Press.

Session 3:
Analysis and writing ethnography

  • Writing down; discuss own field notes from home assignment session 2.
  • Coding and analyzing ethnographic material
  • Writing up
  • Present your home assignment

Home assignment

  • Making thick descriptions of / re-write your previous field notes
  • Apply ethnography to your own research

Recommended reading: 

  • LeCompte, M. D., & Schensul, J. J. (2012). Analysis and interpretation of ethnographic data: A mixed methods approach (Vol. 5). Rowman Altamira. [chapter 5 and 6]
  • Gobo, G. (2008). Doing ethnography. Sage. [Part 3: Analysing Ethnographic Data and Theory Building]

Session 4: 
Bring your own work

  • Examples of various types of ethnography (book, article, video, online, etc.) 
  • Present your home assignment
  • How to apply ethnography to your own research
  • Personal feedback

Recommended reading: 
Emerson, Robert M. et al, ed. 2011.  Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Additional reading: 

  • Silva, M.L.e. (2015). Queer sex vignettes from a Brazilian favela: An ethnographic striptease. Ethnography, 16(2): 223-239
  • Stam, T. (2017). Reasons and resources: Understanding pupils’ aspirations in lower vocational Dutch education. Ethnography and Education, 12 (3), 259-270.

About the instructor

Dr. Talitha Stam is Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Public Administration and Sociology of Erasmus University Rotterdam. She is an educated anthropologist with a broad experiences in ethnographic and other qualitative research methods in and outside the Netherlands. Her research interests are in the field of ethnography, social inequalities, diversity, family sociology, education and disaster anthropology.