Microcredential ekomex: Doing Fieldwork in Challenging Contexts


This interactive online course covers the entire ethnographic research journey, from ethics and methods to data analysis and interpretation, with a particular focus on complex and challenging fieldwork sites.

What Is This Course About?
This intensive online course is designed for PhD and early career researchers who take an ethnographic approach to the study of politics in challenging contexts, such as closed or authoritarian polities, post-conflict societies, or organisations with high levels of surveillance and control.  It covers the entire ethnographic research journey, from ethics and methods to data analysis and interpretation, with tailored assessments that allow participants to develop their own research project.  Conceptual and theoretical discussions of epistemology, positionality and interpretation are complemented with practical guidance on gathering empirical data in a variety of challenging contexts. Course participants have the opportunity to conduct interviews and generate data throughout the week, which are then used to reflect on the theoretical elements discussed in class.

Course Plan
Day 1: Locating the ‘challenges’ in Fieldwork Contexts: Positionality, Reflexivity and Ethics
Day 2: Epistemology: Interpretivism, Grounded Theory and Conceptual Development
Day 3: Ethnographic Methods: Participant Observation, Interviews and Focus Groups
Day 4: Practicalities: Researcher and Research Participant Safety
Day 5: Analysis: Interpreting Ethnographically Gathered Data

Learning Goals

  • Identify the different kinds of challenges posed in different fieldwork contexts and learn how to mitigate such challenges.
  • Recognize the power dynamics between researchers and research participants, and how these dynamics map onto research ethics and safety.
  • Appreciate the links between epistemological orientations, qualitative methodological choices and the different types of practical challenges they bring.
  • Grasp different fieldwork methods for ethnographic research and select the most appropriate ones for your research questions.
  • Co-create a sustainable learning community in which participants can share ideas, problems and wisdom during the course, and build lasting connections that can live on beyond the course.


  • Monday
    09:00-10:00h: synchronous live session
    10:00-10.30h: break
    10.30-12:00h: synchronous live session
    12:00-13:30h: lunch
    13.30-15:00h: asynchronous learning
    15:00-16:00h: office hour
  • Tuesday-Friday
    09:00-10.30h: asynchronous learning
    10.30-11:00h: break
    11:00-12.30h: synchronous live session
    12:30-13.30h: lunch
    13:30-14:30h: independent small group learning
    14:30-15:30h: office hour

Assignments for the Course

  • Daily reflection on blogs – 500 words/day 
  • Data collection during the course
  • Written seminar paper

Recommended Readings for the Course

  • Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 1999. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Zed Books.
  • Cerwonka, Allaine, and Liisa H. Malkki. 2007. Improvising Theory: Process and Temporality in Ethnographic Fieldwork. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/I/bo5417893.html (July 3, 2023).
  • Glasius, Marlies, Meta de Lange, Jos Bartman, Emanuela Dalmasso, Aofei Lv, Adele Del Sordi, Marcus Michaelson and Kris Ruijgrok (2018) (eds.) Research, Ethics and Risk in the Authoritarian Field, (London: Palgrave Macmillan). Available at: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-319-68966-1 (open source)
  • Narayan, Kirin (1993) ‘How Native is a ‘Native’ Anthropologist?’, American Anthropologist 95: 671-86.

Who are Your Instructors?
Xianan Jin is a Lecturer in Politics at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus. She is interested in the representation and resistance of gendered subjects in post-conflict societies, and how gendered subjects from rich and poor backgrounds experience politics differently. For her first book project, she spent one year in Rwanda studying the everyday political economy of women’s political engagement after the 1994 genocide. She is committed to developing experimental ethnographic approaches that amplify the multiple voices of the research participants. 
X @jin_alison
Link Xianan Jin | Politics | University of Exeter

Catherine Owen is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus. Catherine has lived, worked and conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Russia, China and Kyrgyzstan, and is passionate about building sustainable research partnerships across national and cultural contexts. Her primary research interests are participatory governance in authoritarian contexts and the global dynamics of knowledge production in International Relations.
X @CatOwenExeter
Link Dr Catherine Owen | Politics | University of Exeter

Bildungszeit (can be claimed by employees in Baden-Württemberg) 
Anforderungen des Bildungszeitgesetzes Baden-Württemberg sind erfüllt
460 EUR / Early bird 390 EUR / Please note: you will gain access to our learning management system Moodle only after having paid your course fee
ECTS Credits 
Contact for Questions 
26.02.2024 (All day)
27.02.2024 (All day)
28.02.2024 (All day)
29.02.2024 (All day)
01.03.2024 (All day)
5 study days
No prior knowledge required. While not a requirement, students will benefit most from this course if they bring their own research in progress to work on.