From the field to the headquarters: Doing ethnography in centres of power

From the field to the headquarters: Doing ethnography in centres of power

  • 10/11/2021
    10:00 am - 4:00 pm

Course details

qualitative course | level: advanced | register now
for questions related to this event, contact
affiliation: Ghent University


In reality, society is not something I can observe. However remote or small it may be, the point of view from Sirius is not more accessible to me. I never observe only situations. To observe a situation (as opposed to observing a planet), is to be in it. If I observe, I am part of it but in the position of a stranger. Out of scholarly interest, I manage to find myself in situations (even if it means provoking them) that present a degree of relative strangeness, one that is strong enough that, not knowing what they do, I undertake to learn it.
Jean Bazin, Interpréter et décrire, notes critiques sur la connaissance en anthropologie. Paris, EHESS, 1996. p. 409.

Ethnography is a methodological and analytical tool that can be used by researchers affiliated with various disciplines and interested in a broad range of themes. Originated in anthropology, as a long-term immersion of Western researchers in non-Western communities that was aimed to document their ways of living and worldviews (Gupta and Ferguson 1997), ethnography made its journey to neighbouring disciplines (from sociology and linguistics to criminology and political science) and its gaze was increasingly directed to sub-groups within the researchers’ own societies affiliated with the social ‘mainstream’ (e.g. middle classes) or political, economic and cultural elites (Nader 1972). Sites of ethnographic fieldwork are no longer limited to remote villages or to the ‘street corner’ (Whyte 1943), but they include mundane settings such as industrial workplaces (Burawoy 2013) and neighbourhood committees (Eliasoph 1998), and extend to centres of power such as military settings (Gusterson 2007), corporate activity (Shachar and Hustinx 2019) and the heart of the creative industries (Mensitieri 2020). Furthermore, ethnographers are increasingly interested in exploring multi-sited and transnational processes and networks (Marcus 1995) that produce new forms of interaction (Knorr Cetina 2009), subjectivity (Heron 2007), accumulation (Rajak 2011) and expertise (Mosse 2004).
The one-day seminar is intended to introduce students to the fundamental epistemological and methodological aspects of ethnographic practice, with an emphasis on the recent trends described above. To critically reflect on these aspects, the seminar will combine a discussion in some ethnographic classics with examples from the instructors’ ethnographic experience. In particular, we will focus on the challenges of distance in the ethnographic practice: how can a researcher produce the necessary distance in ethnographic situations that are geographically, culturally and socially closed to her/his position, i.e. how can one become “a professional stranger” (Agar 1980)? The seminar will combine lectures, exercises in small groups and collective discussions.

The seminar will be open to students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds who wish to acquaint themselves with ethnography and particularly to those who already have some basic knowledge and/or practical experience with ethnography. In order to balance the needs of different participants and facilitate mutual learning, we would ask the students interested in joining the course to send us a paragraph (half a page max., to be sent 3 weeks before the course date) stating their motivation to participate in the course, their familiarity and/or experience with ethnography and its potential relevance to their PhD project.


Background readings


PhDs and postdocs of a Flemish university: 0 €
Other academics: 60 €
Non-profit/Social sector: 100€
Private sector: 200 €


On Campus-Ghent University


Dr. Giulia Mensitieri & Dr. Itamar Shachar

Sign up (price ticket depends on affiliation)