ASTK18269U Political Ethnography and the Immersive Study of Power

Volume 2019/2020

Bachelor student (2012 programme curriculum): 20 ECTS

Bachelor student (2017 programme curriculum): 15 ECTS

Master student: 15 ECTS


This course introduces and immerses students into an ethnographic sensibility to study the world of (international) politics and power. Over the last years, ethnographic methods have become increasingly popular in the social and political sciences. Yet, ethnography’s place and role in our discipline remains contested. While some scholars embrace ethnographic ways of seeing and the promise to bring both lived experience and the individual back into our analyses of international political life, others criticize ethnography for its naïve empiricism, ethical dilemmas and apparent inability to produce generalizable insights into global orders.


This course offers a space for students to understand, think through and experiment with what it means to work ethnographically.
The course will tackle and unpack a number of key conundrums of social science research from an ethnographic perspective, including questions of theorization, methods of data collection and analysis, fieldwork, research ethics, positionality, reflexivity and authority in academic writing. Methodologically, the course will ask how we can study politics and international relations ‘from below’, and consider what immersion contributes to the study of power. Throughout, the course will show how we can use ethnography to address substantive political questions, and provide insights into the ethnographic study of the state, diplomacy, international finance, marginalization, globalization, war and mass violence. Towards the end of the course, we will engage in the intellectual exercise of putting a famous ethnographer ‘on trial’ for accused academic and ethical misconduct, and will discuss the strengths and dangers that come with doing ethnography. The course may be especially interesting for students who are completing an internship as part of their degree.


The course is taught in weekly 2*2h meetings over 14 consecutive weeks that will include the following topics:

  • Ethnography as a method, a way of researching, a way of writing, a way of seeing, and a way of being
  • The meaning of ‘political’ in Political Ethnography
  • The role of theory in ethnographic work
  • The ‘object’ of ethnographic work
  • The relationship between ethnography and fieldwork
  • The nature and production of ethnographic data and knowledge claims
  • The importance and unavoidability of positionality
  • The ethnographic voice
  • How to read ethnographies
  • Criticisms of the ethnographic approach
  • The ‘so what’ question of ethnographic work
  • Ethnography’s place in Political Science and International Relations
Learning Outcome


  • Describing and explaining the standards of ethnographic research
  • Applying the key concepts and practices of ethnographic work
  • Understanding the value and limits of ethnographic research
  • Accounting for relevant debates in the field



  • Designing and conducting ethnographic research
  • Comparing ethnographic research to other forms of qualitative inquiry
  • Evaluating ethnographic knowledge claims
  • Assessing ethnographic methodological rigour
  • Producing and handling ethnographic data
  • Writing ethnographic fieldnotes and texts



  • Strengthening critical thinking by reading ethnographically
  • Acknowledging and identifying the politics of knowledge claims
  • Developing ethnographic sensibilities for the complexity of social and political life
  • Evaluating and relating ethnographic studies to other social scientific traditions of knowledge production
  • Planning and delivering diverse writing tasks

Key texts:

  • Schatz, Edward. 2009. Political Ethnography: What Immersion Contributes to the Study of Power. London and Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Pachirat, Timothy. 2018. Among Wolves: Ethnography as the Immersive Study of Power. London and New York: Routledge.


Additional literature (preliminary; listed alphabetically and assigned thematically on a weekly basis):

  • Autesserre, Séverine. 2014. Peaceland - Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Auyero, J., (2006). “Introductory Note to Politics under the Microscope: Special Issue on Political Ethnography”. Qualitative Sociology 29, 257–259
  • Barrowman, Nick. 2018. “Why Data Is Never Raw.” The New Atlantis, no. Summer/Fall 2018: 129–35.
  • Becker, Howard S. 1967. “WHOSE SIDE ARE WE ON?” Social Problems 14 (3): 239–47.
  • Boo, Katherine. 2012. Behing the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. New York: Random House.
  • Boswell, John, and Jack Corbett. 2015. “Who Are We Trying to Impress? Reflections on Navigating Political Science, Ethnography and Interpretation.” Journal of Organizational Ethnography 4 (2): 223–35.
  • Bueger, Christian. 2014. “Pathways to Practice: Praxiography and International Politics.” European Political Science Review 6 (3): 383–406.
  • Burawoy, Michael, Joseph A. Blum, Sheba George, Zsuzsa Gille, Teresa Gowan, Lynne Haney, Maren Klawitter, Steven H. Lopez, Sean O Riain, and Millie Thayer. 2000. Global Ethnography: Forces, Connections and Imaginations in a Postmodern World. Berkeley & Los Angeles & London: University of California Press.
  • Burawoy, Michael. 1998. “The Extended Case Method.” Sociological Theory 16 (1): 4–33.
  • Burrell, Jenna. 2009. “The Field Site as a Network: A Strategy for Locating Ethnographic Research.” Field Methods 21 (2): 181–99.
  • Brodkin, Evelyn Z. 2017. “The Ethnographic Turn in Political Science: Refl Ections on the State of the Art,” no. January: 131–34.
  • Clifford, James, and George E. Marcus. 1986. Writing Culture. Edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus. Vol. 41. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  • Coleman, Simon, and Peter Collins. 2010. Locating the Field: Space, Place and Context in Anthropology. London: Berg Publishers.
  • Cunliffe, A. L., Alcadipani, R. (2016), “The Politics of Access in Fieldwork: Immersion, Backstage Dramas, and Deception”, Organizational Research Methods, Vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 535-561
  • Czarniawska, Barbara. 2007. Shadowing: And Other Techniques for Doing Fieldwork in Modern Societies. Copenhagen: Liber: Copenhagen Business School Univeritetsforlarget.
  • Daigle, Megan. 2016. “Writing the Lives of Others: Storytelling and International Politics.” Millennium - Journal of International Studies 45 (1): 33–39.
  • Driscoll, Jesse, and Caroline Schuster. 2018. “Spies like Us.” Ethnography 19 (3): 411–30.
  • Duneier, Mitchell. 1999. Sidewalk. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Duneier, Mitchell. 2011. “How Not to Lie with Ethnography.” Sociological Methodology, 1–11.
  • Emerson, Robert M., Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw. 1995. Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Feldman, Gregory. 2011. “If Ethnography Is More than Participant-Observation, Then Relations Are More than Connections: The Case for Nonlocal Ethnography in a World of Apparatuses.” Anthropological Theory 11 (4): 375–95.
  • Fujii, Lee Ann. 2017. Interviewing in Social Science Research: A Relational Approach. Edited by Dvora Yanow and Peregrine Schwartz-Shea. New York and London: Routledge.
  • Geertz, Clifford. 2005. “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight.” The MIT Press on Behalf of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 134 (4): 56–86.
  • Gill, R., Barbour, J., Dean, M. (2014), “Shadowing in/as work: Ten recommendations for shadowing fieldwork practice”, Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, vol. 9, no. 1, 69-89
  • Goffman, Alice. 2014. On The Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Gupta, Akhil, and James Ferguson. 1997. “Discipline and Practice: ‘The Field’ as Site, Method, and Location in Anthropology.” Anthropological Locations: Boundaries and Grounds of a Field Science c: 1–46.
  • Hannerz, Ulf. 2003. “Being There . . . and There . . . and There!” Ethnography 4 (2): 201–16.
  • Hastrup, Kirsten. 2012. “Scales of Attention in Fieldwork: Global Connections and Local Concerns in the Arctic.” Ethnography 14 (2): 145–64.
  • Hine, Christine. 2011. “Towards Ethnography of Television on the Internet: A Mobile Strategy for Exploring Mundane Interpretive Activities.” Media, Culture & Society 33 (4): 567–82.
  • Hine, Christine. 2017. “Ethnography and the Internet: Taking Account of Emerging Technological Landscapes.” Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences 10 (3): 315–29.
  • Ho, Karen. 2009. Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
  • Holmes, Georgina, Katharine A.M. Wright, Soumita Basu, Matthew Hurley, Maria Martin De Almagro, Roberta Guerrina, and Christine Cheng. 2019. “Feminist Experiences of ‘Studying up’: Encounters with International Institutions.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 47 (2): 210–30.
  • Ingold, Tim, and Jo Lee Vergunst. 2008. Ways of Walking: Ethnography and Practice on Foot. Surrey and Burlington: Ashgate.
  • Ingold, Tim. 2014. “That’s Enough about Ethnography!” Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4 (1): 383–95.
  • Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus. 2008. “Can Ethnographic Techniques Tell Us Distinctive Things about World Politics?” International Political Sociology 2 (1): 91–93.
  • Jarzabkowski, P., Bednarek, R., Lê, J.K. (2014). “Producing persuasive findings: Demystifying ethnographic textwork in strategy and organization research”. Strategic Organization vol. 12(4) 274–287
  • Jerolmack, Colin, and Alexandra K Murphy. 2017. “The Ethical Dilemmas and Social Scientific Trade-Offs of Masking in Ethnography.” Sociological Methods and Research, 1–27.
  • Koch, Natalie. 2018. “The Geopolitics of Sport beyond Soft Power: Event Ethnography and the 2016 Cycling World Championships in Qatar.” Sport in Society 21 (12): 2010–31.
  • Laet, Marianne de, and Annemarie Mol. 2000. “The Zimbabwe Bush Pump: Mechanics of a Fluid Technology.” Social Studies of Science 30 (2): 225–63.
  • Lange, Ann Christina, Marc Lenglet, and Robert Seyfert. 2019. “On Studying Algorithms Ethnographically: Making Sense of Objects of Ignorance.” Organization 26 (4): 598–617.
  • Lewis-Kraus, Gideon. 2016. “The Trials of Alice Goffman.” The New York Times, January 12, 2016.
  • Lubet, Steven. 2018. “Are Ethnographers Ever Wrong?” Socialsciencespace.Com. 2018. https:/​/​​2018/​02/​ethnographers-ever-wrong/​.
  • Maanen, John Van. 2011. “Ethnography as Work: Some Rules of Engagement.” Journal of Management Studies 48 (1): 218–34.
  • Maanen, John van. 2011. Tales of the Field: On Writing Ethnography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Mapedzahama, Virginia, and Tinashe Dune. 2017. “A Clash of Paradigms ? Ethnography and Ethics Approval.” SAGE Open.
  • Marcus, George E. 1995. “Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography.” Annual Review of Anthropology 24 (4): 463–75.
  • McGranahan, Carole. 2014. “What Is Ethnography? Teaching Ethnographic Sensibilities without Fieldwork.” Teaching Anthropology 4: 23–36.
  • Müller, Sophie Merit. 2016. “Becoming the Phenomenon? An Alternative Approach to Reflexivity in Ethnography.” Qualitative Inquiry 22 (9): 705–17.
  • Nader, Laura. 1969. “Up the Anthropologist: Perspectives Gained from Studying Up.” In Reinventing Anthropology, edited by D. Hyms, 284–311. New York: Random House.
  • Neumann, I. B. 2002. “Returning Practice to the Linguistic Turn: The Case of Diplomacy.” Millennium - Journal of International Studies 31 (3): 627–51.
  • Neumann, Iver B. 2008. “The Body of the Diplomat.” European Journal of International Relations 14 (4): 671–95.
  • Neumann, Iver B. 2012. At Home with the Diplomats - Inside a European Foreign Ministry. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Pachirat, Timothy. 2009. “Shouts and Murmurs: The Ethnographer’s Potion.” Qualitative & Multi-Method Research 7 (2): 41–44.


OBS: Dette er ikke den fulde læseliste, denne vil kunne findes på Absalon

This course caters best for students who are (about to) embarking on research projects of their own; especially the Masters Thesis. It requires basic prior knowledge in the philosophy of (social) science, IR theory, and social science research method(ologie)s.
The four weekly contact hours are split into 2h lectures given by me, the lecturer, on the week’s topics; and a 2h seminar for group discussion and exercises dealing with the week’s assigned literature.

While it is good to set this basic structure, the set-up of the class is open to serendipity and to flexibly combine lectures and discussions. Especially in the seminar meetings, time will be split between different forms of engagements, including group discussions, break-out sessions, experimental exercises, and short oral presentations. Given the practical nature of teaching ethnography as a craft, the course relies heavily on cooperative learning and students should engage actively in both class discussions and set exercises.
lass discussions and set exercises.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Total
  • 56
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Portfolio exam
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

- For the semester in which the course takes place: Free written assignment

- For the following semesters: Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assesment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner