Ethnographic Fieldwork

Department of Anthropology
Summer 2010

Basic Description 

This 10-week, 12-credit Ethnographic Fieldwork JBS would consist of three parts:

1. Intensive training for ethnographic fieldwork, including research design, field methods, data analysis, permission to do research with human subjects (IRB approval), etc. This would be a redesign at the undergraduate level of a graduate course taught in the anthropology department (ANTH 202b Designing Ethnographic Research) [4 credits]. Students would work towards designing their own independent research to be carried out in the second half of the JBS (see number 3).

2. Concurrently, there would be a course in reading classic and contemporary ethnographies, both in article and book form, with emphasis on the relationship between fieldwork, analysis and ethnographic writing. This would be a version of a course I have taught for the last few years, which until now was a required course for undergraduate anthropology majors (ANTH 83a, Anthropological Inquiry). While the course is no longer required for the major (as part of the CARS restructuring effort), this would allow students to take it in the summer, since many students see the course as helpful and interesting.  ANTH 83a would no longer be offered in the fall or spring semesters. 

The contact hours for these two courses would take place in the first half (five weeks) of the JBS (see schedule below).

3. The third component would be an independent research course, which could be listed either as ANTH 98a Individual Research in Anthropology or ANTH 99a Senior Research. (Students interested in senior honors research could take the JBS summer course in lieu of the first semester of the ANTH 99a/ANTH 99b senior thesis sequence.)  This course would take place over a five-week period.  Most of these projects would be conducted in the Waltham-Boston area, although exceptionally mature, independent and serious-minded students with ideas for feasible research projects away from Brandeis could apply to spend the final five weeks of the JBS semester away in their fieldsites, while continuing to participate actively in the course and with the instructor via email, LATTE, etc.  However, we envision that most students will remain in the Boston area, and the second part of the course will include one group meeting and one one-on-one conference each week to share experiences, review methods, etc.

Target Population and Selection Process

The target population for this course would be rising juniors and seniors (sophomores and juniors in 2009-10, for the summer of 2010) who are either anthropology majors or minors or who have a demonstrated interest in field research and social science. One course in sociocultural anthropology (1a or another course) is recommended but not required.

Students would apply in the spring of 2010, with specific ideas for summer projects. Preference would be given to anthropology majors and minors, but proposals from all Brandeis students would be considered, as would applications from non-Brandeis students. Applications would be reviewed by the instructor and selected on the basis of the student’s preparation, maturity, and the feasibility and intrinsic merit of the proposed project. 

(While the students will be accepted on the basis of their proposed project, we recognize that one or more of these projects might fall through after the student has already been accepted and made plans to attend the JBS. The instructor will have several project ideas in her “back pocket” in case this happens.)

The process of gaining approval for research with human subjects (IRB approval) would begin at this point, including a workshop to introduce students to the process and guidance in preparing the proposals.


In addition to completing 12 credits of coursework within anthropology (which can count towards the Brandeis major or minor), students would participate in a video JBS symposium that would be circulated to the Brandeis community and/or on YouTube. This would give them the opportunity to show their work to a broader audience. Some students would also use their summer fieldwork as the basis for ongoing research or for a senior honors thesis. 

Schedule and Coursework

A. The first five weeks of the JBS would cover 80 contact hours, according to the following schedule:

Monday through Thursday

11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ANTH 83a, Anthropological Inquiry
2 to 4 p.m. Course # TBD, Designing Ethnographic Research

For each course, there will be reading and writing assignments each week.  For the Anthropological Inquiry course, readings will be classic and contemporary ethnographies, in book and article form. For this class, students will also be asked to develop reading lists and write short papers on material related to their particular project. 

For the Designing Ethnographic Research course, students will read about field methods, write a research proposal and IRB application, and conduct short fieldwork exercises, some shared by the whole class, and others geared toward their particular project. 

B. [ANTH 98/ANTH 99] Over the next five weeks, students will conduct independent research on their chosen project. During this time, they will meet as a class once a week for four hours. This class will be run as a workshop for students to discuss their field projects with each other.  The exact schedule will be worked out in the first part of the summer so as not to interfere with student research. Students will also be required to meet with the instructor for up to one hour once a week (the instructor will hold regular weekly office hours and will be available to meet at other times as necessary). These meetings will provide the chance for intensive supervision of independent study and field research, something which is difficult for professors to provide in the course of the semester. It will also give students the opportunity to learn from each other.

For this course, students will be expected to conduct 15-20 hours per week of fieldwork (including participant observation, interviewing, etc). Students will write weekly field reports and give several brief oral presentations in the course of the five weeks. Finally, students will write a 25-35 page paper presenting the results of their research in the context of the reading done in the first part of the summer. They will also present their work at a mini-symposium at the end of the course, to be videotaped and circulated via YouTube or some other appropriate means.


This course would work best with 10-15 students.


    • One faculty member. To be reimbursed in the form of one banked semester, including service, to be taken either in fall 2010 or at a later time to be determined with the department chair.  (No cash outlay.)
    • One graduate teaching fellow. If possible, this job will be filled by an anthropology doctoral student, as part of their TF obligations. If all possible students are engaged in their own field research or language study, one course assistant would be hired. The TF/CA’s workload will be prorated so that it is equivalent to what would normally be expected of an assistant in a 4-credit course.  ($3,200)
    • Funding for students. It would be ideal to provide each student with a small fund to help with their transportation and other costs ($150/student). (Up to $2,250, depending on enrollment.)
    • Funding for video symposium, including technical equipment, publicity, etc.  ($500)
  • Total (not including faculty leave): up to $5,950