Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2007-2008 (archived)


Department: Theology and Religion


Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2007/08 Module Cap None.


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to the scope of fieldwork as a qualitative research tool.
  • To involve students in a fieldwork project of their own.
  • To develop students' ability to reflect on the biases and skills (qualities, values, motivations and assumptions) they bring to any fieldwork situation.
  • To develop students' ability to evaluate the most suitable techniques in relation to a chosen field.
  • To develop students’ ability to engage critically with ethnographic texts and anthropological interpretations of data.


  • This module focuses on the scope of fieldwork as a research tool, its significance, limitations and the challenge of carrying it out, including the problems and theories involved in the subsequent interpretation of data collected. It will engage with some of the key anthropological ethnographers – , Malinowski, Evans-Pritchard, Clifford Geertz, Victor Turner, Levi-Strauss and some recent ethnographers (such as Michelle Rosaldo, Tanya Luhrmann, Robert Desjarlais), looking at how the process of fieldwork and ‘participant observation’ has changed and the key debates that have evolved. It addresses the issues of subjectivity and the role of ‘reflexivity’ in writing ethnography and hence the need to develop a ‘personal anthropology’. Questions to be discussed and explored will include those concerning who has the authority to speak for any group’s identity and authenticity; whether we can speak about essential elements and boundaries of a culture, whether we can ‘translate’ what is observed; whether ethnography is writing; and how ‘self’ and ‘the other’ are in tension in the encounters of ethnography and especially in modern interethnic relations. Learning about ‘participant observation’, interviewing, collecting family histories and other qualitative research methods as well as the ethics involved will be key to the preparation for ‘fieldwork’ in each student’s case study. Included in this is learning about ways of looking, ways of seeing, ways of asking and listening and entails reflection about ones own beliefs, culture and assumptions and how these are represented in social life, in institutions, in conceptualisations and behaviour. Discussions about the suitability of fieldwork methodologies and interpretations concerning each case study will emphasise the significance of the subjects and their situation to choice of method and interpretation.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • understanding of the scope and range of applicability of fieldwork as a qualitative research tool
  • depth of knowledge about anthropological fieldwork methods and the interpretation of ethnographic data which is informed by research at the current limits of understanding
  • understanding of the self-implicated character of anthropological fieldwork and of the need for reflexivity as a practitioner
Subject-specific Skills:
  • the ability to apply appropriately a variety of advanced methods and techniques of analysis and inquiry in relation to a particular fieldwork study.
  • the ability to evaluate the literature on fieldwork, the advantages and disadvantages of competing methods and the various conceptual frameworks.
  • the ability to recognise apparent problems in fieldwork as a method and their case study in particular.
  • the ability to draw valid conclusions, some of which may be original, from an independent fieldwork case-study
Key Skills:
  • Communicate complex information and argument in a clear and orderly way.
  • Demonstrate the ability to understand research findings and to contribute to debate at the frontiers of knowledge.
  • Show the capacity to work autonomously and take responsibility for their own learning, including the ability to direct their own study and manage time effectively; and to make critical and discriminatory use of primary research literature.
  • Observe ethical issues with due respect .
  • Demonstrate the learning skills needed to undertake original research.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The fortnightly seminars will enable students to develop advanced subject-specific knowledge and skills in reflection about cultural assumptions and prejudices, and in the communication of ideas and critical interpretation of sources. This will be facilitated through peer-group discussion of selected key texts and of fieldwork experiences, moderated by the module leader.
  • The fieldwork component is essential to the understanding of the complexity of applying these research methods in the field.
  • Planning for and feedback on essay performance will be facilitated and delivered via tutorials.
  • The purpose of the formative essay is to encourage students to explore the subject-specific methods and theories as applied by anthropologists, and to develop skills in written communication at a post-graduate level . The summative essay is intended to assess both the students’ comprehension of methods and theoretical material, and capacity to apply this material.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 5 As required 1 hour 5
Seminars 10 fortnightly 2 hours 20
Fieldwork 1 case study Every week over 10 weeks 2 hours 20
Preparation and reading time associated with formative & summative assessed essays 160
Preparation and reading time associated with contact hours 95
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

One 5000 word essay

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University