Ethno-Graphing Race and Racism SOCIO4123

  • Academic Session: 2023-24
  • School: School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 4 (SCQF level 10)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 2 (Alternate Years)
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes

Short Description

How might sociological research help in opposing racism? In what ways does such research represent race? These are some of the questions this course explores through an engagement with ethnography.


Ethnography is a research approach that primarily relies on sharing time with people for creating a space of dialogue and mutual understanding in view of generating knowledge about specific social phenomena. The books and articles resulting from doing ethnography are detailed descriptions of those encounters and phenomena, and are called ethnographies - a classic example is Pierre Bourdieu's 1970 ethnography of the Kabyle house.

This course is centred on the act of ethno-graphing that is here intended as both sharing time with people in view of generating knowledge and writing ethnographies. The course aims to critically examine the ways in which qualitative research, and ethnography in particular, has been investigating in practice, and representing in writing or visually, race and racism.  The course sits in between methodology and critical theory, as well as in between Sociology and Social Anthropology, and is concerned with the following key questions: How are race and racism analysed in and through ethnography? What are the main dilemmas implied in ethno-graphing race and how have they been faced, whenever they have, by researchers? How are ethnographic texts about race and racism conceived, and do/how these texts contribute to constitute, erode, oppose or simply hitching curiosity about race and racism? What are the ultimate goals of ethnographies of race and what do they possibly ought to be?


This is very much a learning-by-doing course. In-class activities will be considered as a training in reflexive participation and exposition. Classes will be organized in three main activities: A short introductory note by the lecturer about the topic of the day will be followed by one or two individual presentations about one/two written or visual/video ethnographies to be either chosen from a list or agreed upon with the lecturer; students will be required to reflexively prepare the presentation by raising questions and reflections about their own experience of both reading and (re)presenting the text to an audience; the third and final moment will be a collective discussion concerning two topics, which may well be circulating conjointly but which should be kept analytically apart - first, the very student (re)presentation we just attended, and second, the very contents of the readings we had to read for that day. At times one ethnographer may join us in skype or in person, in order to either take part in the conversation, or give a short (re)presentation of/on their own work.


Students who are planning to use ethnography and students who plan to focus on race and racism in view of their dissertation will find the course particularly helpful. The course will also be of interest for anyone with a general interest in critical theory and/or qualitative methods.  



Requirements of Entry

In order to take this course you need to have met the requirements for entry into our Honours Programme. This means achieving a grade of 'D' or better in Sociology 1A and 1B and a 'C' or better in Sociology 2A and 2B. You also have to comply with the College of Social Science regulations for progression to Honours.

Excluded Courses





Inspired by the readings and our in-class discussions, the summative assessment involves the development and submission of a 4,000-word Research Design which outlines a proposed project of ethnography addressed to questions of race and/or racism. The research design - reflecting on discussions in class about the challenges and benefits of ethnographic research - should outline: i) the background and topic of the research; ii) should specify the context of the research, making clear the way in which racism shapes that context; iii) a theoretical or conceptual framework that will guide the study, drawing on relevant theories of racism; iv) the specific methodological approach that will guide ethnography, including reflection on relevant practical and ethical issues; v) a proposed timeline for the project.


More detailed information on this assessment will be provided as part of the course.

Are reassessment opportunities available for all summative assessments? No

Reassessments are normally available for all courses, except those which contribute to the Honours classification. For non-Honours courses, students are offered reassessment in all or any of the components of assessment if the satisfactory (threshold) grade for the overall course is not achieved at the first attempt. This is normally grade D3 for undergraduate students and grade C3 for postgraduate students. Exceptionally it may not be possible to offer reassessment of some coursework items, in which case the mark achieved at the first attempt will be counted towards the final course grade. Any such exceptions for this course are described below. 

Course Aims

■ Investigate the value of ethnography in understanding race and racism.

■ Develop critical awareness of ethnographic "subjectivity" and "objectivity" and what they mean.

■ Critically assess the representations of social reality lying at the core of race as a system of hierarchical social organization.

■ Deepen your knowledge of the ways in which ethno-graphing may contribute to opposing racism.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:

■ Demonstrate an understanding of ethno-graphing.

■ Evaluate different writing styles and research practices relating to ethnography.

■ Critically assess some of the ways in which ethnography can approach and represent race and racism.  

■ Evaluate critical questions about racism as well as ways of investigating it.

■ Demonstrate an attentiveness to the variety and variability of mechanisms of racial ordering and racist exclusions.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.