ASTK18270U CANCELLED - Studying International Relations Ethnographically

Volume 2019/2020

Bachelor student (2012 programme curriculum): 10 ECTS

Bachelor student (2017 programme curriculum): 7.5 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS


In recent decades, the "practice turn" has made a major impact on social science research - including International Relations. This has led to a variety of interesting research projects based exploring the interdisciplinary field between anthropology and International Relations as well as a number of interesting debates about the capabilities and limitations of ethnography as a source of knowledge (e.g. Hansen & Stepputat, 2001). At the same time globalization has made the local and the global so intertwined that local knowledge of global phenomena has become an everpresent part of our everyday lives, for instance as Facebook users and global consumers. As students of international politics venture into the world e.g. making elite interviews with lobbyists in Brussels, or studying development practices in the global South, they gain a lot of knowledge, which is not part of the interviews gathered: How are the interviewee’s offices arranged? What are the pictures hanging on the walls? How is the work environment? How are people dressed? How do they communicate in this setting? And so on. Most of these observations are not a part of the task at hand and therefore never become part of the knowledge produced. One can say that we are losing a lot of potentially interesting data - perhaps because we do not have the right tools and experience to handle them. This course aims to provide a better position to handle this type of data. To do so, the course places emphasis on investigating and discussing concrete analyses and methodological experiences from researchers who have used ethnographic methods to investigate questions of international political relevance. The aims of the course are twofold: firstly, to experiment with and discuss how ethnographic methods and data can be involved in studies of international problems and, secondly, to explore how ethnographic studies change our understanding of international relations.

Learning Outcome


  • Describe different ethnographic approaches to studying International Relations
  • Present the key theoretical assumptions



  • Apply ethnographic methods to actual cases
  • Reflect on what it means in practice to carry out ethnographic studies of political problems
  • Compare and analyze the main theoretical trends relating to studying IR ethnographically



  • Discuss how ethnographic methods and data can be included in political studies
  • Discuss how an ethnographic perspective affects our understanding of the world
  • Evaluate the validity of ethnographic arguments and knowledge

Asad, Talal. 1986. The Concept of Cultural Translation. In Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus, ix, 305 s. Berkeley: University of California Press. (141-163) (23)


Apthorpe, Raymond. 2011. Coda: With Alice in Aidland: A Seriously Satirical Allegory. In Adventures in Aidland: TheAnthropology of Professionals in International Development edited by David Mosse, 199-219. New York: Berghahn. (21)


Autesserre, Séverine (2014) Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).97-157 (61)


Bhabha, Homi K. (1994) The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge). (1-27, 121-131) (37)


Brigg, Morgan, and Roland Bleiker. 2010. Autoethnographic International Relations: Exploring the Self as a Source of Knowledge. Review of International Studies 36(03): 779-98. (20)


Burawoy, Michael. 1998. The Extended Case Method. Sociological Theory 16(1): 4-33. (30)


Cerwonka, A., & Malkki, L. H. (2007). Improvising theory : process and temporality in ethnographic fieldwork. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (1-39, 162-186) (84)


Clifford, James. 1986. Introduction: Partial Truths. In Writing Culture the Poetics and Politics of Ethnography a, edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus, ix, 305 s. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1-26 (26)


Cohn, Carol (1987) 'Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals', Signs 12:4. 687-718 (32) Comaroff, Jean, and John Comaroff. 2003. Ethnography on an Awkward Scale: Postcolonial Anthropology and the Violence of Abstraction. Ethnography 4(2): 147-79. (33)


Ferguson, James (1994), The Anti-Politics Machine: "Development", Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press). 1-22 (22)


Ferguson, James, and Akhil Gupta. 2002. Spatializing States: Toward an Ethnography of Neoliberal Governmentality. American Ethnologist 29(4): 981-1002. (22)


Geertz, Clifford. 1973. Thick Description: Toward an Interpretative Theory of Culture. In The Interpretation of Cultures, edited by Clifford Geertz, 3-33. New York: Basic Books. (31)


Gupta, Akhil, and James Ferguson. 1992. Beyond “Culture”: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference. Cultural Anthropology 7(1): 6-23. (18)


Gupta, Akhil and James Ferguson (1997), 'Discipline and Pratice: "The Field" as Site, Method, and Location in Anthropology', in Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson, eds. Anthropological Locations: Boundaries and Grounds of a Field Science (Berkely: University of California Press). 1-46 (46)


Kurowska, Xymena, and Benjamin C. Tallis. 2013. Chiasmatic Crossings: A Reflexive Revisit of a Research Encounter in European Security. Security Dialogue 44(1): 73-89. (17)


Marcus, George E. 1995. Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography. Annual Review of Anthropology 24(1): 95-117. (23)


Marcus, George E. 2007. Ethnography Two Decades after Writing Culture: From the Experimental to the Baroque. Anthropological Quarterly 80(4): 1127-45. (19)


Mbembe, Achille. 2005. Sovereignty as a Form of Expenditure. In Sovereign Bodies: Citizens, Migrants, and States in the Postcolonial World, edited by Thomas Blom Hansen and Finn Stepputat, 148-66. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (19)


Mosse, David. 2004. Is Good Policy Unimplementable? Reflections on the Ethnography of Aid Policy and Practice. Development & Change 35(4): 639-71. (33)


Neumann, Iver B. 2007. “A Speech That the Entire Ministry May Stand for,” Or: Why Diplomats Never Produce Anything New. International Political Sociology 1(2): 183-200. (18)


Neumann, Iver B. 2010. Autobiography, Ontology, Autoethnology. Review of International Studies 36(04): 1051- 55. (5)


Philipsen, Lise (2014), 'When Liberal Peacebuilding Fails: Paradoxes of Implementing Ownership and Accountability in the Integrated Approach', Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 8:1. 42-67 (26)


Pratt, Mary Louise. 1986. Fieldwork in Common Places. In Writing Culture the Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus,Berkeley: University of California Press. 27-50 (24)


Rabinow, Paul. 1986. Representations Are Social Facts. In Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus, 234-60. Berkeley: University of California Press. (27)


Rancatore, Jason P. 2010. It Is Strange: A Reply to Vrasti. Millennium - Journal of International Studies 39(1): 65-77. (23)


Riles, Annelise. 1998. Infinity within the Brackets. American Ethnologist 25(3): 378-98. (21)


Schatz, Edward (2009). Political ethnography : what immersion contributes to the study of power. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (1-22, 303-318) (38)


Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 1995. The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a Militant Anthropology. Current Anthropology 36(3): 409-40. (32)


Scott, J. C. (1998). Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven & London: Yale University Press. 1-83 (83)


Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2005. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton: University of Princeton Press.1- 54 (54)


Vrasti, Wanda. 2008. The Strange Case of Ethnography and International Relations. Millennium - Journal of International Studies 37(2): 279-301. (23)


Vrasti, Wanda. 2010. Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Methodology and Love Writing. Millennium - Journal of International Studies 39(1): 79-88. (10)


Wedeen, Lisa. 2010. Reflections on Ethnographic Work in Political Science. Annual Review of Political Science 13(1): 255-72. (18)


Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1990. The Romance of Resistance: Tracing Transformations of Power through Bedouin Women. American Ethnologist 17(1): 41-55. (15)


Total 990 pages

Basic IR course and interest in ethnographic methods. Willingness to put ethnographic methods into use.
The course will be combined lectures, group work and practical exercises where the students will practice ethnographic methods and writing. There will most likely also be a few guest lectures. A high level of student activity is recommended.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Free assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

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