Political Ethnography and the Immersive Study of Power

Course content

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 these disciplines 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, others criticize ethnography for its naïve empiricism, ethical dilemmas and apparent inability to produce generalizable insights.


This course offers a space for students to 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 the role of theory, the strength (and weaknesses) of different methods of data collection and analysis, and the role of 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 also 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 both the promise 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 and/or are interested in conducting their own (field)research for a paper or thesis.


The course is taught in weekly meetings that will include the following topics:

  • Ethnography as method, writing, and a way of being
  • The meaning of ‘political’ in Political Ethnography
  • The role of theory in ethnographic work
  • How to read ethnographies
  • 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
  • Criticisms of the ethnographic approach
  • The ‘so what’ question of ethnographic work
  • Ethnography’s place in Political Science and International Relations
  • Ethnographic research and Covid-19

Bachelor: 7,5 ECTS

Kandidat: 7,5 ECTS



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 ethnography to other forms of qualitative research
  • Evaluating ethnographic knowledge claims
  • Assessing ethnographic methodological rigour
  • Producing and handling ethnographic data


  • Writing ethnographic fieldnotes and texts

Dealing with disruptions in qualitative research projects (i.e. Covid-19)

The weekly contact hours are split into lectures, 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 flexibly combine lectures and discussions. 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.

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.

Barrowman, Nick. 2018. “Why Data Is Never Raw.” The New Atlantis, Summer/Fall 2018: 129–35.

Becker, Howard S. 1967. “WHOSE SIDE ARE WE ON?” Social Problems 14 (3): 239–47.

Boo, Katherine. 2012. Behind 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.

Burawoy, Michael. 1998. “The Extended Case Method.” Sociological Theory 16 (1): 4–33.

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.

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.

Eggeling, Kristin A. (forthcoming) ‘At work with practice theory, ‘failed’ fieldwork, or how to see politics in an empty chair’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies.

Eggeling, Kristin A. and Adler-Nissen, Rebecca. 2021. ‘The Synthetic Situation in Diplomacy: Scopic Media and the Digital Mediation of Estrangement’, Global Studies Quarterly, pp. 1–14.

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, L. A. (2012) ‘Research ethics 101: Dilemmas and responsibilities’, PS - Political Science and Politics, 45(4), pp. 717–723.

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.

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.

Herzog, Lise and Zacka, Bernardo. 2017. ‘Fieldwork in Political Theory: Five Arguments for an Ethnographic Sensibility’, British Journal of Political Science, pp. 1–22.

Ho, Karen. 2009. Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street. Durham and London: Duke University Press.


Howlett, Marnie. 2021. ‘Looking at the “field” through a Zoom lens: Methodological reflections on conducting online research during a global pandemic’, Qualitative Research, Online First, 1-16.

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.

Laet, Marianne de, and Annemarie Mol. 2000. “The Zimbabwe Bush Pump: Mechanics of a Fluid Technology.” Social Studies of Science 30 (2): 225–63.

Lewis-Kraus, Gideon. 2016. “The Trials of Alice Goffman.” The New York Times, January 12, 2016.

Longo, Matthew and Zacka, Bernardo. 2019. ‘Political Theory in an Ethnographic Key’, American Political Science Review, 113(4), pp. 1066–1070.

Lubet, Steven. 2018. “Are Ethnographers Ever Wrong?” Socialsciencespace.Com. https://www.socialsciencespace.com/2018/02/ethnographers-ever-wrong/.

Maanen, John van. 2011. Tales of the Field: On Writing Ethnography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Marcus, George E. 1995. “Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography.” Annual Review of Anthropology 24 (4): 463–75.

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.

Pachirat, Timothy. 2009. “Shouts and Murmurs: The Ethnographer’s Potion.” Qualitative & Multi-Method Research 7 (2): 41–44.

Pachirat, Timothy. 2011. Every Twelve Seconds - Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Schaffer, Frederic Charles. 2016. Elucidating Social Science Concepts: An Interpretivist Guide. London and New York: Routledge.

Schatz, Edward. 2009. “Ethnography and American Political Science: Two Tribes, Briefly Characterized.” Qualitative & Multi-Method Research Fall: 48–50.

Schatz, Edward. 2017. “Disciplines That Forget: Political Science and Ethnography.” PS - Political Science and Politics, Online First, 135–38.

Scott, James C. 1985. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Stellmach, Daryll. 2020. ‘The field is ever further: In search of the elusive space of fieldwork’, Ethnography, Online First, 1–11.

Tavory, Iddo, and Stefan Timmermans. 2009. “Two Cases of Ethnography: Grounded Theory and the Extended Case Method.” Ethnography 10 (3): 243–63.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Vitebksy, Piers. 2005. The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia. Boston, MA: Houghton Miffin.

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

Wacquant, Loïc. 2004. Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wacquant, Loïc. 2017. “Review: Scrutinizing the Street: Poverty, Morality, and the Pitfalls of Urban Ethnography.” American Journal of Sociology 107 (6): 1468–1532.

Watson, Graham. 1987. “Make Me Reflexive, but Not Yet: Strategies for Managing Essential Reflexivity in Ethnographic Discourse.” Journal of Anthropological Research 43 (1): 29–41.

Wedeen, Lisa. 2009. “Ethnography as Interpretive Enterprise.” In Political Ethnography: What Immersion Contributes to the Study of Power, edited by Edward Schatz, 1st ed., 75–94. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Wilkinson, Cai. 2013. “Ethnographic Methods.” In Critical Approaches to Security Studies: An Introduction to Theories and Methods, edited by Laura Shepherd, 129–45. Taylor & Francis.

Yanow, Dvora. 2009. “Dear Author, Dear Reader: The Third Hermeneutic in Writing and Reviewing Ethnography.” In Political Ethnography: What Immersion Contributes to the Study of Power, edited by Edward Schatz, 275–302. Chicago, IL: Chicago Universtiy Press.

This course caters best for students who are interested in embarking on research projects of their own; especially the Master Thesis. It requires basic prior knowledge in the philosophy of social science, social and IR theory, and social science research method(ologie)s. Mainly, students should be interested in taking a close look at their own and others everyday life and challenge overly-theoretical approaches to politics, power, and authority with the everyday lived realities of such terms.

Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)

The students will receive both oral and written feedback. They will receive, within reason, oral feedback from the lecturer during office hours or by appointment. They will receive written feedback on their portfolio exam materials: once during the semester and once on the final submission explaining the final grade

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Karakteren 12 gives for den fremragende præstation, dvs. hvor den studerende med ingen eller få og uvæsentlige mangler og på selvstændig og overbevisende måde er i stand til at indfri målbeskrivelsen for udbuddet.
  • Karakteren 7 gives for den gode præstation, dvs. hvor den studerende, om end med adskillige mangler, på sikker vis er i stand til at indfri målbeskrivelsen for udbuddet.
  • Karakteren 02 gives for den tilstrækkelige præstation, dvs. den minimalt acceptable præstation, hvor den studerende kun usikkert, mangelfuldt og/​eller uselvstændigt er i stand til at indfri målbeskrivelsen for udbuddet.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28