Ethnographic Theory and Methods

Ethnographic Theory and Methods

Master of Arts or Master of Education

This concentration seeks to combine critical approaches of the study of organizations, schools, and other kinds of institutions with close ethnographic observation and analysis. We train students in anthropological theory that considers various levels of social life, moving from the details of daily life to state governance and regimes of power, as well as across the globe with today’s mobile flows of people, technologies, and ideas. This concentration combines this approach to theory with methods courses that help students systematically understand how to learn from people, not merely to study, measure, or evaluate them.


Students from this concentration are well prepared to apply to doctoral programs in anthropology, other social sciences, or education, as well as to seek jobs based on their methodological expertise. Increasingly companies, NGOs, and multinational corporations seek employees who can carefully observe, interview, and write up reports about how to improve their workplace, as well.

This two-year program builds on an apprenticeship model around a supervised research project. While students have much flexibility, they are encouraged to follow our colloquium sequence, including a first year focusing on readings foundational to anthropology; a course that meets with two years of cohorts and various faculty members to discuss the students’ original research projects; and a second-year course that works with students to analyze the research that they have conducted.  It also focuses on courses introducing ethnographic methods and techniques.

The first year culminates with a research proposal and summer ethnographic fieldwork. The second year develops what was started through courses and seminars that take the students through the analysis and writing of the research project they conducted at the end of their first year.  For their paper for graduation, students end up with a draft of an article (around 30 pages) that has benefited from significant feedback of peers and faculty.  

Suggested program of study includes:

  • 15 points in general anthropology (courses like Social Contexts of Education, Cultural Foundations of Education, Globalization, Mobility, & Education, Anthropology of Education)
  • 6 points in methodology (such as Introduction to Participant Observation and Ethnography, Advanced Ethnographic Methods, Introduction to Quantitative Methods)
  • 6 points in complementary social science and educational courses that can enhance student expertise (such as international and comparative education, sociology of education, political science of education)
  • 5 points in relevant electives (such as regional studies courses like Schooling Across the Americas; courses on culturally relevant pedagogy; organizational management, etc.)
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