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Ethnography and the Anthropological Tradition (SO338)

Ethnography, or ‘participant observation’ as it is sometimes glossed, has proven a valuable approach for sociologists seeking to apprehend a world in flux. However, it is often mischaracterised as a method rather than a theoretical tradition in its own right. This module addresses the key ethical, practical and theoretical debates in which ethnography is grounded, for sociology and other cognate disciplines like social anthropology.

The first part of the module explores the historical development of ethnography, particularly in terms of its deployment by early twentieth century anthropologists like Franz Boas and Bronislaw Malinowski as well as innovations pioneered by the early ‘Chicago school’ sociologists, the ‘mass observation’ movement in Britain and then, after the Second World War, the development of the Manchester School of Anthropology by Max Gluckman and the emergence of 'community studies' in Britain.

The second part of the module engages with contemporary scholarly debates, beginning with the so-called ‘crisis’ in ethnographic writing provoked by the ‘reflexive turn’ of the 1980s. It considers arguments for collaborative ethnography and multi-sited fieldwork, particularly in relation to Michael Burawoy's recent calls for public sociology, as well as the literature on so-called ‘new’ ethnographic objects. We'll conclude the module with a reassessment of ethnography as theory (rather than method, or mere 'description') in order to consider the potential and promise of ethnography for a globally-orientated sociology of twenty-first century life.

Ethnography and Anthropological Tradition

Module Director:

Alexander Smith


This module is worth 15 CATS.