Ethnographic fieldwork methodology: approaches, tools and ethics

Please note: This page refers to a course that has already taken place.

02 - 04 May 2016

PRIO, Hausmanns gate 3, Oslo

Jørgen Carling and Cindy Horst

For participation and approved essay: 5 ECTS.

Covadonga Morales Bertrand:

Cindy Horst (Research Professor, PRIO) and Jørgen Carling (Research Professor, PRIO).

This course prepares participants for conducting fieldwork and using fieldwork data in social-science research. By 'fieldwork' we mean data collection through face-to-face interaction with people in their daily lives, using participant observation, interviews, or a combination of the two. The course pays particular attention to the challenges of doing fieldwork in challenging circumstances, such as those that are often encountered in research on peace and conflict, or in the contexts of migration and displacement. The sessions roughly follow the chronology from pre-fieldwork planning to post-fieldwork representation of data, and address both practical and principle concerns at each stage. Discussions of ethical challenges are integrated throughout. Rather than attempting to provide blueprint answers, the course seeks to help participants reflect upon the dilemmas and challenges of fieldwork and make informed decisions for their own research.

Course Description:


Brief presentation of lecturers, participants and their research. Introduction to the course.

1.    Research design and access

How do I formulate research questions that can be addressed through fieldwork? How do I identify the appropriate 'field'? How do I identify and approach informants? Which ethical considerations are important to design the research and accessing the field? How can fieldwork shed light on structural relations of power, and how might relations of power influence the conduct and outcomes of research?

2.    Interviews and participant observation

Which data collection methods can be used in fieldwork? What does participant observation entail? What is the academic value of 'hanging out'? How structured or open should interviews be? How can different data collection methods benefit from each other?

3.    Relationships and risks in the field

How do I present myself and my research in a fieldwork setting? What are the implications of gender, age, migrant background and other characteristics of the researcher? How do I manage relationships with informants and gatekeepers? What are some of the risks and ethical challenges I might face while doing fieldwork?

4.    Language, note-taking and recording

What do I do if I don't speak the language of my informants? How do I address the issue of recording or not? How can I ensure that my notes become a valuable resource when fieldwork is over? How do I protect my fieldwork data?

5.    Coding and analysing fieldwork data with NVivo

What does coding entail in qualitative research? How can NVivo help in organizing and analysing my data? What characterizes a good system for coding? This session will demonstrate the potential and limitations of NVivo and help participants make decisions about acquiring and learning to use the software, for instance through online courses.

6.    Writing and representing fieldwork data

How do I convey fieldwork insights in writing? How can I make effective use of quotes from informants? Which ethical concerns are important in the writing phase? What are the common challenges of fieldwork-based research in the review process of academic journals?


Deadline of applications: 11 March 2016.

Deadline of course essay: 4 June 2016.


​In order to obtain credits for the course, participants must submit a paper of 3000–5000 words by 4 June 2016. The paper should address all the following topics:

  • The relationship between the research question(s) and fieldwork-based knowledge
  • The specific fieldwork methodology employed
  • Methodological and ethical challenges and ways of addressing these challenges

Depending on the nature and current stage of the participant's own research, the paper can be an account of fieldwork methodology already employed in their own research, a plan for fieldwork methodology to be employed in their own research, or a plan for fieldwork methodology to be employed in a proposed future project.


The deadline for applications is 11 March 2016. Please fill in the electronic application form. PhD candidates should specify the topic of their project under 'Research interests'. PhD candidates get priority, but others with graduate studies from a relevant discipline may also apply.

There is no participation fee, but the cost of transportation and accommodation must be covered by the participants. A limited number of stipends to cover basic accommodation at neighbouring Anker Hotel are available for PhD students who do not have funding for such course participation through their universities or otherwise. If relevant, check the 'stipend' box in the application scheme.

If needed in order to make the necessary travel arrangements, PhD candidates who apply prior to the deadline may request an early evaluation of their application in an e-mail to Kristoffer Lidén (, with a cc. to Covadonga M. Bertrand (

Course Literature:

​Reading lists for each session will be distributed to participants after admission to the course.