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Fieldwork : Issues and Challenges


4-6 November 2021

Lang EN/FR

Elisa Volpi, CUSO


Dr Lea Sgier, UNIGE 

Dr Branwen Spector, LSE



Despite the mostly quantitative orientation of mainstream political science, qualitative research involving some form of fieldwork (ethnography, in-depth interviewing, shadowing etc.) has a long tradition in our discipline too. Training opportunities for political scientists doing qualitative fieldwork are far and in-between though. This workshop aims to fill this gap by offering three days of practical training, lectures and discussions for anyone actively engaged in, or simply interested by types of political science research relying on qualitative-interpretive research involving hands-on fieldwork. 

In this 3-day workshop, we want to cover mostly three aspects of fieldwork: Day 1 (Thursday) will likely be focused on practical challenges of in-person fieldwork such as: negotiating access to the field; negotiating relations and roles in the field; practical aspects of fieldwork (recording, note-taking, data management); organisational fieldwork; gendered (and other) identities in fieldwork; the ethics (and ethical grey zones) of fieldwork. All these issues are relevant not only for people doing actual ethnographic fieldwork, but for anyone intending to do any form of qualitative data collection on the ground (as we will explain, researchers planning to do interviews in particular would often do well to “go ethnographic” first, or at least to learn some lessons from ethnographers).  

Day 2 (Friday) focuses mostly on qualitative interviewing as a key methods of political science fieldwork. Among the topics to be covered are the following:  how to improve topic guides; general rules of good interview; expert interviews,  sensitive interviews, “difficult” respondents. We will also do some practical interviewing exercises. Participants are very welcome to bring along extracts from their own interviews for discussion or “troubleshooting”. 

Finally, on day 3 (Saturday) we want to enlarge our perspective on “traditional” fieldwork by expanding the discussion in different directions, such as: the potential and limitations of digital fieldwork, multi-sited (short-term) fieldwork, the impact of the Corona crisis on fieldwork, the researcher’s mental health and safety during fieldwork, resources for further methodological training. 

Various activities will structure the three days: short input lectures by the main instructors or by invited guests who will join us punctually (possibly by Zoom); discussions around the participants’ own research and around a few readings; practical exercises. 

(A more detailed syllabus will be circulated to the registered participants).


Université de Genève



This workshop targets  mainly two types of participants:

·       Participants engaged in, or preparing for qualitative fieldwork (small- or large-scale ethnography, qualitative interviewing, shadowing, etc.) and who want to improve their fieldwork skills, raise their awareness with regards to the challenges ahead, and generally feel more confident in their endeavour. 

·       Participants more generally interested in or inspired by qualitative research who are willing to engage in three days of reflection, exercises and discussions on research both from a practical and a theoretical angle.



The workshop welcomes participants from disciplines other than political science. 



The workshop will be taught mainly in English. However, participants are free to express themselves in French (or German) if they wish. Interview exercises can also be carried out in languages other than English if the participants are more comfortable. 


Preparatory work

The registered participants will receive a set of preparatory readings. 

Participants who are interested in presenting some of their own work during the workshop should please get in touch with the workshop organisers, ideally by 12 October. We are happy to make space for oral presentations of ongoing thesis projects (in a friendly and supportive spirit – early-stage work is very welcome). 

Participants who have already done some fieldwork are welcome to submit materials to us for feedback (for example topic guides or interview extracts) or (with their approval) collective discussion. 



Preparatory readings (provisional)

Avanza, Martina (2008).  « Comment faire de l’ethnographie lorsqu’on n’aime pas ‘ses indigènes’ ? Une enquête au sein d’un mouvement xénophobe », in Fassin, Didier et Bensa, Alban (eds). Les politiques de l’enquête. Epreuves ethnographiques. Paris : La Découverte, pp. 41-58.

Clark, Tom (2008). “ ‘We’re over-researched here!’ Exploring accounts of research fatigue within qualitative research engagements”. Sociology Volume 42(5): 953–970. 

Lilleker, Darren (2003). "Interviewing the Political Elite: Navigating a Political Minefield", Politics 23(3): 207-14. 

Hermanowicz, Joseph C. (2002). "The Great Interview: 25 Strategies for Studying People in Bed", Qualitative Sociology25(4): 479-499.

OstranderSusan A. (1993). “’ Surely You’re Not in This Just To Be Helpful’ : Access, Rapport, and Interviews in Three Studies of Elites.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 22: 7-27 (reprinted in in R. Hertz et J.B. Imber (eds), Studying Elites Using Qualitative Methods, Sage).

Pahl, J.M. and Pahl, R.E. (1971). Managers and their WivesA Study of Career and Family Relationships in the Middle Class. Harmonsworth: Penguin (Appendix).

Wilkinson,  Cai (2014). “Not just finding what you (thought you) were looking for : reflections on fieldwork data and theory”, in Yanow, Dvora and Schwartz-Sea, Peregrine (eds). Interpretation and Method. Empirical Research Methods and the Interpretive Turn, 2nd edition. London/New York: Routledge, pp.387-405. 

Whyte, William Foote (1996[1943]. Street Corner Society. The Social Structure of an Italian Slum. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (Appendix; also available in French).



Recommended background references (to be completed)

Fassin, Dider et Bensa, Alban (eds) (2008). Les politiques de l’enquêteEpreuves ethnographiques. Paris: La Découverte. 

Mosley, Layna (ed.), Interview Research in Political Science. Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press. 


Schatz, Edward (ed) (2009). Political Ethnography. What Immersion Contributes to the Study of Power. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press.




Biographic notices

Branwen Spector holds a PhD in Anthropology from LSE. She has done 36 months of ethnographic fieldwork in the Occupied West Bank among Palestinian refugee and Israeli settler communities. She is the co-founder of The New Ethnographer, an on-line project launched in 2018 that dedicated to making fieldwork safer, healthier and more ethical for researchers around the world.  She has co-taught a pre-field training workshop for doctoral students over two days at LSE in 2020. 



Lea Sgier is a political scientist with a focus on qualitative-interpretive methods. She has recently completed a research project on institutionalised elderly people’s relation to politics and political participants in French speaking Switzerland (Leenaards Foundation 2017-20, with Barbara Lucas), involving 80+ interviews and small-scale participant observation. From 2010-17 she was a professor of qualitative methodology at Central European University (CEU). Lea teaches qualitative methods for a number of graduate programmes across the world (UK, HK, Canada, MethodsNet etc.). She currently presided the Ethics Committee of LISER (Luxemburg Institute for Social and Economic Research). 



Délai d'inscription 28.10.2021
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