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Ethnographic methods

Ethnographic methods
How to do participant observation in diverse settings, using published examples and practical activities.




What is participant observation? How is it actually done? How is it combined in mixed-methods research to produce valid findings? How can we ensure its quality? Is there an advantage to doing limited participant observation with other methods in a short-term study?

Participant observation is a key tool in the social researcher’s toolkit. Traditionally associated with ethnography, participant observation has often involved long-term and intense immersion in the field of study, requiring considerable commitment from the researcher. This course will address the practicalities of doing participant observation in diverse settings, using a range of published examples as well as practical activities. We will especially consider shorter-term participant observation and mixed methods. The course will introduce participants to the principles and practicalities of participant observation and then introduce ways in it can enhance qualitative research. It is a practical course, designed to equip participants with the knowledge and skills required to immerse themselves in a setting, to listen, to ask questions; and to supplement observation with the analysis of other data.


Topics covered


  • The foundations and principles of ethnography
  • Gaining access
  • Participating and observing
  •  Making fieldnotes
  •  Being an ‘insider’
  •  Avoiding over attachment
  •  Participant-observer roles
  •  Using other methods
  •  Rapport and trust
  •  Reflexivity
  •  Issues of representativeness, reliability and validity


Course objectives


By the end of the course participants should:

  •  understand the contribution that close, theory-oriented observations, participation, observation, and conversation can make to  qualitative data collection;
  •  be equipped to record 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 defend the validity and reliability of ethnographic interpretations.


Who will benefit


The course is introductory but will rapidly take participants to the level of being able to put their knowledge and skills to practice. Some prior familiarity with qualitative methods would be beneficial but not essential.


Course tutor


Karen O'Reilly is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Loughborough University, and an affiliate of the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford. She has taught ethnographic and qualitative methods for over 20 years, including the Essex Summer School in Social Science Data Collection and Analysis, the Swiss Summer School in Social Science Methods, in Lugano; at the Universities of Aberdeen, Essex, Loughborough and Oxford; and at universities in Germany, Norway and Hong Kong. Her experience also includes being a Member of the Advisory Board of the NCRM biannual Research Methods Festival 2011-2012; and a member of the ESRC Peer Review College 2012 – 2016.

Karen is a highly experienced ethnographer whose many publications include two widely cited books on ethnography: Ethnographic Methods(Routledge, 2nd ed. 2012) and Key Concepts in Ethnography(Sage, 2009). She has also been instrumental in the design and evaluation of Masters level Research Methods courses and programmes in a number of universities. Karen provides short courses for the SRA on a regular basis.


  This course contributes 6 hours to the MRS CPD programme

12/9/2019 9:30 AM - 4:30 PM
GMT Standard Time
Grand Connaught Rooms 61 - 65 Great Queen Street LONDON WC2B 5DA UNITED KINGDOM

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