Academic year
2021/2022 Syllabus of previous years
Official course title
Course code
FM0075 (AF:345673 AR:187996)
On campus classes
ECTS credits
Degree level
Master's Degree Programme (DM270)
Educational sector code
4th Term
Go to Moodle page
The course provides 6 cfu and is optional for anyone who is registered in the Corso di Laurea.
To practice ethnography means necessarily to manipulate it and, thus, to change the received tradition(s). The aim of this course is to debate the contemporary challenges that are facing ethnographic practice but always by tracing its relation to a history that, much as we might have wanted, we cannot cast away.
This course undertakes both an examination of the present-day conditions of possibility of the ethnographic gesture and an historical overview of that tradition of evidence gathering. It exposes the students to a critical analysis of ethnographic research with a view to making them familiar with some of the central categories that make it possible. Thus, its aims are theoretical, historical and practical
The course is addressed to students of Masters level with some previous backing in the social sciences and humanities, not necessarily in anthropology or ethnology in particular.
From its heyday in the late nineteenth century, ethnology has been deeply associated with ethnography as its principal mode of evidence gathering. This much has not changed in well over a century. Yet, to practice ethnography means necessarily to manipulate it and, thus, to change the received tradition(s). Thus, anthropologists/ethnologists move by relation to a canon (a group of accepted influential writings that determine the meaning of what they do) but they do so always by challenging that canon (ours is a ‘passing canon’). Two conjunctural changes are presently very visible: firstly, the collapse of the mid-twentieth century national/imperial order (the so-called ‘Western world’) is opening the way for a more ecumenical communication between diverse angles of analysis; secondly, the global revolution of communication has changed the very nature of evidence, of writing, and of what it is to be socially present. Concerning the first aspect, in Europe in particular, Trumpism and Brexit have finally put to rest a post-War ‘Western’ outlook that, in anthropology, manifested itself by a symmetrical opposition between ‘Western science’ (implicitly individualistic and rationalistic) and ‘Other knowledges’ (implicitly collectivistic and non-rational). Concerning the second aspect, the world of the internet has penetrated deeply into our modes of acting having significant impact on the very nature of the ethnographic gesture. This has been exacerbated by the recent (but predictably lasting) impact of the response to the Covid pandemic. The post-WWII regime of global movement that allowed for classic ethnography is in the course of being profoundly altered—for which the recent flowering of new forms of state control that openly oppose free speech, as exercised in China, in Russia, or in Turkey, will also be very relevant. The older modes of ‘ethnographic visitation’ are now fast becoming outdated.
The aim of this course, therefore, is to debate the contemporary challenges that are facing ethnographic practice but always by tracing its relation to a history that, much as we might have wanted, we cannot cast away. This is a topic about which the lecturer has been writing for two decades and more. As in the case of earlier versions of this course, therefore, each lecture presents a text by the lecturer where issues of ethnographic theory are debated as well another text, mostly of an historical nature, that provides the background to the discussion.
28 March – ‘Introduction: Ethnography as Tradition’ focuses on how the ethnographic gesture is both a process of participatory learning and an exercise of a mode of evidence gathering that, like all other academic traditions, is re-invented as one does it.
29 March – ‘Mutuality and Fieldwork’ argues in favour of an approach to the nature of the ethnographic encounter that places existence before essence, and mutuality of encounter before ontological polarisation.
30 March – Debate.

4 April – ‘The “we” of anthropology’ argues for the need to overcome the primitivist and imperialist background assumptions concerning the ethnographic author. The lecture argues in favour of an ecumenical conception to the politics of science—what Ernesto de Martino, in the 1960’s used to call ‘ critical ethnocentrism’.
5 April – ‘Ethnographic intermediation’ questions the nature of the ‘ethnos’ in ethnography in light of the contemporary debates concerning how to prolong this tradition in the future. Rather than adopting Ingold’s defeatist argument, we propose to abandon a primitivist conception of the ethnographic endeavour
6 April – Debate

11/12 April – ‘Mauss’ Sea of Ethnography’ starts from the old master’s favourite metaphor for ethnographic work (‘ethnography is like the sea’) in order to highlight how ethnography mobilizes categories for evidential analysis.
13 April – Debate

19 April – ‘Ethnography as Participatory Learning’ discusses what it means ‘to participate’ from the point of view of the concept’s history and its role in ethnographic research, as well as how it might relate to contemporary conceptions of sociality.
20 April – debate

25/26 April - Reading Week.

2 May – ‘Meaning and Vagueness in Ethnography’ presents a critique of the assumptions of representation that normally guide approaches to evidence gathering in light of contemporary research.
3 May – ‘On modes of sociality: Empathy & Company’ focuses on the way in which different modes of sociality affect the nature of the ethnographic encounter and how they correspond to different affective approaches.
4 May – debate

9/10 May – ‘Conclusion: Ethnography as Determination’ prolongs the discussion of modes of sociality and focuses on the role of determination in ethnographic work.

The course will be examined by (a) participation in class (30%) and (b) a final essay of 5000 words (70%) to one of four topics to be provided by the lecturer and involving the close reading of at least two of the lecture bibliographies above. Participation in class will occur during the third lecture of each week in which students will have to present and debate the readings distributed.

Each lecture (except the first one) will focus on two texts. Students are expected to read them before the lecture. Students will be divided into 2 or 4 groups (depending on the number of students) and each group will be asked to present a reading of one of the texts. This will make sure that the class is an interactive occasion.
Readings (pdfs in Moodle):

28 March – ‘Introduction: Ethnography as Tradition’
• JPC, 2011, ‘Ethnography as Tradition’ Etnográfica 15 (2): 379-407.
• Lave, Jean, 2012, ‘Everyday Life and Learning’

29 March – ‘Mutuality and Fieldwork’
• JPC. 2013. ‘The two faces of mutuality: contemporary themes in anthropology’ Anthropological Quarterly 86 (1): 257-274.

4 April – ‘The “we” of anthropology’
• JPC. 2018. ‘Towards an Ecumenical Anthropology’ In: Liana Chua and Nayanika Mathur (ed.s) Who are We? Reimagining Alterity and Affinity in Anthropology, pp. 207-231. Oxford: Berghahn.
• De Martino, Ernesto. [1964] 2016. ‘Apocalypse du Tiers Monde et apocalypse européenne’ in G. Charuty, D. Fabre and M. Massenzio (ed.s) La fin du monde: Essai sur les apocalypses culturelles. Paris: EHESS Translations (there are Italian versions of this text).

5 April – ‘Ethnographic intermediation’
• JPC, 2023, ‘Evident Invisibles’, Critique of Anthropology, in print.
• Ingold, T., 2014 That’s enough about ethnography! Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4 (1): 383–395.

11/12 April – ‘Mauss’ Sea of Ethnography’
• JPC, 2022, ‘Person and Relation as Categories: Mauss’ legacy’ History & Anthropology, accepted, in print.
• Mauss, Marcel, [1938] 1985. ‘A Category of the Human Mind: The Notion of Person; the Notion of Self.’ Trans. W.D. Halls. In: Carrithers, Michael, Steven Collins, and Steven Lukes (ed.s) The Category of the Person: Anthropology, Philosophy, History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1–25.

19 April – ‘Ethnography as Participatory Learning’
• JPC. 2018. ‘Modes of Participation’ Anthropological Theory 18 (4): 435–455.
• Goffman, Erving. 1956. ‘The Nature of Deference and Demeanor’ American Anthropologist 58 (3): 473-502.

2 May – ‘Meaning and Vagueness in Ethnography’
• JPC. 2020. ‘On embracing the vague’ HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 10 (3): 786-799.
• Hardon, A. and E. Sanabria. 2017. ‘Fluid Drugs: Revisiting the Anthropology of Pharmaceuticals’ Annual Review of Anthropology 46: 117–32.

3 May – ‘On modes of sociality: Empathy & Company’
• JPC. 2022. ‘Company and the mysteries of a dugout canoe’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 28 (4), in print.
• Wikan, Unni. 1992. ‘Beyond the Words: The Power of Resonance’ American Ethnologist 19 (3): 460-482.

9/10 May – ‘Conclusion: Ethnography as Determination’
• JPC. 2022. ‘The Debate’s Conjuncture: An Introduction’ and ‘Field aporias in Minho (Portugal)’. In: A Debate on Ethnographic Determination: Lisbon EASA 2020, J. Pina-Cabral (ed.), Social Anthropology 30.1: 63–73 and 104–116.
• Taylor, Anne-Christine. 2022. ‘On being carried by the field: the desire for ethnography and its opacities’, idem.


This subject deals with topics related to the macro-area "Human capital, health, education" and contributes to the achievement of one or more goals of U. N. Agenda for Sustainable Development

This programme is provisional and there could still be changes in its contents.
Last update of the programme: 16/03/2022