Research Theory and Methods in Social Cultural Anthropology

Course Number: 
Mariane Ferme


This course is an introduction to research problems and research design techniques. Each participant will plan a research project in consultation with the course faculty, and conduct it independently. Classes will focus on the pragmatics, ethics, and philosophy of field research. Classes will see a combination of lectures, in-class workshops on research design and problem-solving, and visits by other anthropologists who will discuss the challenges raised by specific projects. Lecture and section attendance are required for this course.

Ideal projects are first of all, feasible given the time you have: one semester.  They address situations and problems that are of a social or cultural nature, and which can be studied locally. Over the past years, research sites and problems for this course have included topics as diverse as the social interactions in a Berkeley senior center; the forms of food discipline and body discipline undertaken by children training in ballet and how these help rethink current debates on eating disorders; the provision of food advice to Berkeley's homeless population and what this reveals about the organization of support services and their relation to different forms of power; the study of the use of free legal services to refugees; the experience with health facilities of Middle Eastern women newly immigrated to the Bay area; the socializing mechanisms and use of cultural cues by online participants in the “Second Life” internet community; and the ways in which day laborers from Central America use local networks to find lodging and jobs in Berkeley.  Other possible topics considered are: the study of the collection and processing of garbage and recyclables in Berkeley; the study of the ways in which alternative family models shape contemporary ideas about kinship, and genealogical reckoning; and the secondhand clothing trade.


This course meets the Social/Cultural core requirement, the Methods requirement, or may be used as an elective. 

221 Kroeber
TTH 11-12:30


1) Attendance and preparation for both lectures and sections are mandatory.  Additionally, all students are required to attend at least once the office hours of both professor and GSI to discuss their research project.  Preferably this will be in the early weeks of the term.  Due to the interactive nature of this course, all students should familiarize themselves with the course's bSpace site and check it regularly for handouts, readings, and interactive fora.

2) Students will be required to begin conceptualizing and drafting a research proposal two weeks into the course.  Sections and some of the lecture time will be used to refine these proposals and frame them in the context of scholarly literature (included in a project bibliography, 5% of the grade), and to develop research plans (10% of the grade).  Once a plan has been agreed upon, students will begin the research.  During the course of the research, students will turn in samples of their fieldnotes twice (10% of the grade each), a preliminary report on the findings (15% of the grade), and present their findings to the rest of the class for discussion before the end of the term (10% of the grade).  Finally, students will turn in a research paper (30% of the grade). Participation in both lecture and sections will also count towards the final grade (10% of the grade).