‘Doing Ethnography’ course

flickr photo by Alan Feebery https://flickr.com/photos/11245047@N06/11687076445 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

On Thursday and Friday last week, I had the pleasure and privilege to participate in a ‘ Doing Ethnography’ course at the University of Nottingham. This was a course in ‘Advanced’ ethnography funded by the Economic and Social Research Council Doctoral Training Centre and drew participants from around the country. Given the specialisms of the course leaders, it was no surprise that the majority of my fellow learners came from health care sectors, which of course provided a very different slant to that with which I’ve become accustomed.

In aiming to ‘give students knowledge of the practical and theoretical underpinnings of the ethnographic method,‘ over the two days: we had an introduction to the ‘history’ of ethnography; were presented with a case study of a contemporary ethnography; discussed key issues in ethnography; explored the issues of ethics approval; analysed some ethnographic data; and began planning our own ethnographies. When I applied for the course way back in the Autumn, I was worried it might be too advanced, pitched as it was for those ‘who already have some understanding of the theoretical and conceptual issues which underpin qualitative research.’ I was hoping my Masters study was enough to provide me with that, and indeed that proved to be the case. In fact, the MRes modules I’ve been doing recently perhaps have taken me that bit further, so much so, that some of the aspects of the course were already familiar to me. It was nevertheless helpful to have some of the knowledge I’ve been developing reaffirmed and supplemented with different perspectives. The unique insights and experiences that experienced academic researchers can share is of such value in helping you to reflect on your own research.

What I brought home

  • The sense that I was on the right tracks in choosing an ethnographic approach for my own study. An exploratory technique which is open to possibilities, flexible, adaptable and responsive seems to be an appropriate and defensible choice in my circumstances.
  • That I’ve not fully acknowledged my own positionality yet, and given how that will undoubtedly impact my study, it’s crucial to have ‘formally’ done so. I feel another post is in the offing.
  • During the session exploring ‘Why ethnography,’ one of the justifications was that it allows you to see practice enacted, in addition to self-reporting during interviews for example – comparing what people say with what they do. This challenged me to think about the balance in my study between elicited and ‘found’ data.
  • The importance of being able to summarise your work for different audiences, whether for your friends in the pub, or an audience of specialist academics.
  • The simple tip of listening to your audio data whilst out running to become more familiar with it and perhaps gain fresh insights.
  • How powerful it can be to summarise your analysis and interpretation using a matrix of vertical arguments (thesis chapters?) and horizontal themes which cut across them (Moffatt, 2014: 291). Satisfactorily completing said matrix can be a helpful indicator that your analysis and interpretation are complete and robust. The matrix can also provide a succinct summary from which to defend your thesis in a viva.

The final session of the course asked us to begin to plan our ethnography, then present it back to the group. Eight months into my study, I’m already along that path, but what the session did was allow me the chance to incorporate the new thinking I’ve gained during this course. Having recently been informed of the date of my ‘Confirmation of PhD’ assessments, it was a timely opportunity to reflect on where I am and what my current thinking is. I know I need to: revisit my research questions; consider what I’ve learned recently about discourse analysis and whether that has a place in my research; think about my data and its analysis at micro, meso and macro levels; give much more serious thought to the method of audio-recording reports of activity with Twitter.


The success and usefulness of the course were in no small part due to the warmth, openness, sensitivity and responsiveness of the facilitators, Stephen Timmons and Fiona Moffatt. They had crafted a coherent course, successfully balancing information delivery, discussion and practical experiences, through ‘teacher’-led, individual and group sessions. Personally I would have appreciated a little more time spent on the analysis of data, and especially on the ways to write up an ethnography, two areas I’m still wrestling with, but they were issues specific to me. I also think the timing of the course didn’t quite work for me; a little too late in the year. It would have been ideal to have done this course prior to the MRes modules and would have set them up wonderfully. But we can’t have everything. Would I do it again or recommend it to someone else? Absolutely.


Moffatt, Fiona. Working the production line: productivity and professional identity in the emergency department. Thesis. University of Nottingham, 2014.

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