Ethnographic research methods

Offer semester
1st semester

Lecture time
Tuesday 14:30 – 16:30

Lecture venue

Course description

The primary objective of this course is to introduce ethnographic research methods to research postgraduate students. It is designed to be a rigorous methodological training for students of sociology and of other social science disciplines. It will cover both the theoretical issues of the qualitative approach and the practical skills of conducting ethnographic studies. The dialogue between theories and methods is emphasized. By the end of the course, students are expected to be equipped with the basic techniques of ethnographic research.

The course will begin with a discussion of the common ground and the difference between quantitative and qualitative methods in social science research. It will present the scientific base of qualitative research, the logic of ethnographic methods, and the practical skills of data collection. Methodological concerns like case study, theoretical sampling, theory building, interpretation, ethical and political issues will be discussed. Students will be coached to acquire the technical skills of participant observation, interviewing, fieldnote writing, coding, and writing up proposal and paper.

Course learning outcomes

  1. Understand the epistemological basis of the qualitative approach of social research.
  2. Comprehend the theoretical basis of ethnographic methods and equipped with various data collection techniques.
  3. Able to utilize the qualitative coding software NVivo.
  4. Grasp the basic knowledge of integrating data into theories.


Attendance and classroom discussion40%
Take-home assignments30%
Project presentation and summary30%

Required reading

Adler, Patricia and Peter Adler. 1987. Membership Roles in Field Research. CA: Sage Publications. Selections.

Anteby, Michel. 2013. Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Selections.

Becker, Howard. 1967. “Whose Side Are We on?” Social Problems, 14:239-247.

Becker, Howard. 1996. “The Epistemology of Qualitative Research,” in Richard Jessor and Anne Colby et al. (eds), Ethnography and Human Development: Context and Meaning in Social Inquiry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Pp.53-71.

Burawoy, Michael. 1991. “The Extended Case Method,” in Michael Burawoy et al. (eds), Ethnography Unbound: Power and Resistance in the Modern Metropolis. CA: University of California Press. Pp.271-87.

Chan, Cheris Shun-ching. 2009. “Invigorating the Content in Social Embeddedness: An Ethnography of Life Insurance Transactions in China.” American Journal of Sociology 115(3):712-54.

Chan, Cheris Shun-ching. 2012a. Marketing Death: Culture and the Making of a Life Insurance Market in China. New York: Oxford University Press. Selections.

Eliasoph, Nina, and Paul Lichterman. 2003. “Culture in Interaction.” American Journal of Sociology 108(4):735-94.

Emerson, Robert M. and Rachel I. Fretz.  1995.  Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Selections.

Fine, Gary Alan. 1993. “Ten Lies of Ethnography: Moral Dilemmas of Field Research.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 22(3):267-94.

Fine, Gary Alan and Corey M. Abramson. 2020. “Ethnography in the Time of Covid-19: Vectors and the Vulnerable.” Etnografia e Ricerca Qualitativa (2):165-74.

Garcia, Angela Cora, Alecea Standlee, Jennifer Bechkoff and Yan Cui. 2009. “Ethnographic Approaches to the Internet and Computer-Mediated Communication.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 38(1):52-84.

Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. NY: Basic Books Inc. Publishers. Selections.

Glaser Barney and Anselm Strauss. 1967. “Theoretical Sampling,” in The Discovery of Grounded Theory. NY: Aldine De Gruyter. Pp.45-77.

Hoang, Kimberly Kay. 2018. “Risky Investments: How Local and Foreign Investors Finesse Corruption-Rife Emerging Markets.” American Sociological Review 83(4):657-85.

Lee, Ching Kwan. 1995. “Engendering the Worlds of Labor: Women Workers, Labor Markets, and Production Politics in the South China Economic Miracle.” American Sociological Review 60(3):378-97.

Lee, Ching Kwan. 1998. Gender and the South China Miracle: Two Worlds of Factory Women. CA: University of California Press. Selections.

Lichterman, Paul. 2002. “Seeing Structure Happen: Theory-Driven Participant Observation.” Pp. 118-45 in Methods of Social Movement Research, edited by Bert Klandermans and Suzanne Staggenborg. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Mishler, Elliot. 1986. “The Joint Construction of Meaning,” Research Interviewing: Context and Narrative. Harvard University Press. Pp. 52-65.

Morgan, David. 1996. “Focus Group,” Annual Review of Sociology, 22:129-52.

Murthy, Dhiraj. 2013. “Ethnographic Research 2.0: The Potentialities of Emergent Digital Technologies for Qualitative Organizational Research.” Journal of Organizational Ethnography 2(1):23-36.

Ragin, Charles. 1994. Constructing Social Research. CA: Pine Forge Press. Selections.

Taylor, Steven and Robert Bogdan. 1998. Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods. NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Selections.

Timmermans, Stefan, and Iddo Tavory. 2012. “Theory Construction in Qualitative Research: From Grounded Theory to Abductive Analysis.” Sociological Theory 30(3):167-86.

Walton, John. 1992. “Making the Theoretical Case” in Charles Ragin and Howard Becker (eds), What is a Case? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp.121-37.

Weiss, Robert. 1994. Learning from Strangers. The Free Press. Selections.

Yang, Mayfair Mei-hui. 1994. Gifts, Favors, and Banquets: The Art of Social Relationships in China. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Selections.


Course co-ordinator and teachers