Critical Ethnography Research Seminar 2015

Interuniversity Two Days Training Programme: Critical Ethnographic Research

17-18 SEPTEMBER 2015

Centre for Research on Culture and Gender (Ghent University). In coorperation with the Interculturalism, Migration and Minorities Research Centre (Leuven University) & the Centre for Migration and Intercultural Studies (University of Antwerp)

The idea of ethnography refers at the same time to a specific theoretical and conceptual framework as well as to a specific perspective on research methodology. It is used in many disciplines, including in anthropology, sociology, sociolinguistics, history, political studies, education, arts and architecture, to study and understand social meaning and individuals’ and groups’ social frameworks. Underpinned by a critical and/or social-constructivist paradigm, it is a theoretical position that assumes the contextualised nature of human actions, is committed to complexity, intersectionality and contradiction and takes a reflexive stance towards the role of researchers. Privileging close and prolonged observation ‘in the field’ as its primary source of information, ethnography draws on a range of qualitative methods, including (participant) observation, interviewing and reading of documentary materials and cultural artefacts.

This interdisciplinary intensive course provides Doctoral and advanced Master students from different disciplines an introduction to the principles and practices of doing ethnographic research. The course specifically brings into focus postcolonial and/or feminist ethnographic perspectives, both in theoretical approaches and practical application. The first day focusses on the philosophical and epistemological foundations of postcolonial and feminist ethnographic research. Three prominent scholars who have extensively written about ethnographic methodology will address key epistemological and theoretical challenges and opportunities that emerge in ethnographic research. During the master classes, students will have the opportunity to discuss the methodological issues involved in their own research by means of presentations and a roundtable  discussion. The second day of the training programme focusses on the practice of ethnographic research and the difficulties involved in translating the theoretical approaches into concrete methods and strategies. It provides a platform for students to listen to and interact with researchers who have extensive experience in doing ethnographic research, each in different settings and using different methods and media.


September 17th 2015

Philosophical and epistemological foundations of ethnographic research

09:00: Intro & Welcome

09:15-12:45: Morning Lectures

09:15: Lecture 1:‘Ethnography between aesthetics and politics: Materiality, space and power’

         Rozita Dimova, Department of Languages and Cultures, Ghent University

with respondent Noel Clycq, Centre for Migration and Intercultural Studies, University of Antwerp

& discussion

10:45 : Coffee break

11:00: Lecture 2:‘Doing, writing and applying ethnography: A ‘restless anthropologist’ among clinicians and medical students’         

         Lisa Dikomitis, School of Social Sciences, University of Hull, UK

with respondent Sabine Grenz, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany

& discussion

12:30: Lunch break

14:00-16:30: Parallel Master Classes

Master Class 1: Rozita Dimova: Ethnographic observations of objects, things, commodities, designs,…

Master Class 2: Lisa Dikomitis: Participant observation today

17:00-18:30: Evening Lecture

Lecture 3: Vulnerability: In fieldwork, in life, and on the page

         Ruth Behar, University of Michigan, USA

with respondent Chia Longman, Centre for Research on Culture and Gender, Ghent University

& discussion

18:30: reception

September 18th 2015: 

Collecting and analysing materials: Ethnographic research in practice

09:45-12:00: Morning Lectures:

09:45: Lecture 4: ‘”It’s the epistemology stupid!” The ethics of intersubjectivity in ethnographic practice’

         Karel Arnaut & Sean O’Dubhghaill, IMMRC, Leuven University

10:45: Coffee break

11:00: Lecture 5: ‘Encountering the anti-immigration debate: Uneasy laughter’

         Katariina Mäkinen, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland

12:00: Lunch break

13:15: Lecture & Film Screening: ‘On “Lili”: Questioning China girls through the production process of film’

        An van. Dienderen, School of Arts KASK

14:30-17:00: Parallel Master Classes

Master Class 3: Katariina Mäkinen: The role of empathy in doing qualitative research

Master Class 4: Lisa Dikomitis: From field notes to ethnography: From ‘doing’ ethnography to ‘writing’ ethnography in a reflexive way



Lecture 1: ‘Ethnography Between Aesthetics and Politics: Materiality, Space and Power. An Example from a Balkan City’

By using the recent material changes of central Skopje, this lecture will examine how aesthetics, affect and politics converge to produce altered temporalities, to erase traces of socialism, or to produce vision of shared European cultural legacy. The new buildings, monuments and rearrangements of public space in Skopje since 2008 arguably efface the modernist appearance of the city center designed after the 1963 earthquake as they trigger conflicting reactions among intellectuals, regular people, politicians and artists. By focusing on these reactions to the new urban face of the city, I assess the social movements provoked by this construction project, with a special stress on the Archi-brigade, a self-organized group of architecture students. By contrasting these views with the ones of the project supporters for whom the new face of Skopje is a “fulfillment of a missed sequence of history,” I will attempt to disentangle the theoretical complexity in this project, and show how affect, aesthetics and materiality turn into a powerful site of politics, while the “baroque effect” of the new architecture is conveyed through the size and grandeur of the buildings or monuments. The detailed ethnographic portrayal of buildings, people, space and affect, reveal how they become mutually constitutive forces through “subjective apprehension” where the subject lapses into a “state of dependence” signified by the affect of wonder and astonishment.

Rozita Dimova is Associate Professor in Slavonic and East-European Studies (2013-pres), Department of Languages and Cultures, Ghent University. Before she worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle (2003-2006), Free University Berlin (2006-2009) and Humboldt University Berlin (2010-2013). Her work has engaged a broad range of theoretical and ethnographic issues. Her research interests include ethnic and national identities, class, gender, consumption/commodities, refugees, the state and the neo-liberal forms of governance in South-eastern Europe and in the West.

Lecture 2: ‘Doing, writing and applying ethnography: A “restless anthropologist” among clinicians and medical students’

17.09.2015 – 11:00

After conducting many years ‘classical’ ethnographic fieldwork among refugees on Cyprus (2003-2009), I started field research in hospitals and medical schools in the north of England (since 2012). I became deeply engaged with clinicians and medical students—sometimes as informants and other times as co-investigators. Medicine and medical education tends to see itself as a ‘culture of no culture’ (Taylor 2003) and that posed challenges for our collaboration. What does one do when critical social science thinking clashes with biomedical thinking? How does one challenge biomedical mind-sets that consider the social and cultural aspects of health ‘the fluffy stuff’? How can clinicians and medical students be encouraged to step outside clinical praxis and consider the bigger picture? In an ongoing dialogue we are all constantly redefining our understandings of ethnographic field work and ethnographic writing, and this in terms of length, budget, dissemination of findings and implications for practice. How do we get from doing ethnography, writing ethnography to applying ethnography? I will present a reflexive account of the joys and struggles in this process and I will do so by sharing some ethnographic vignettes from my fieldwork and practical tips and tricks from a ‘restless anthropologist’ (Gottlieb 2012).

Lisa Dikomitis is a social anthropologist who has conducted fieldwork in Belgium, Cyprus and the United Kingdom. She is Lecturer in Social Research in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Hull (UK) where she teaches courses on qualitative research and etnographic practice. She is also the Programme Director of the MSc in Applied Social Research. Dikomitis is the author of Cypris and its Places of Desire. Cultures of Displacement among Greek and Turkish Cypriot Refugees (IB Tauris, 2012) and the co-editor of When God Comes to Town: Religious Traditions in Urban Contexts (Berghahn Books, 2009, paperback 2012). In 2010 she ventured into health focusing especially on the experiences of health professionals and the ways they try to incorporate and engage with knowledge outside their medical competencies. She conductd fieldwork in a psychiatric hospital in Belgium before moving to the UK in 2012. In the north of England she continued working on the social aspects of health and has conducted fieldwork among patients, clinicians and medical students. The research includes studies on the recent NHS reforms, health inequalities and the perceptions of cluster headache. Before joining the University of Hull in March 2014 she worked at Ghent University (2004-2012) and at the Hull York Medical School (2012-2014)

Lecture 3: Vulnerability: In Fieldwork, in Life, and on the Page

17.09.2015 – 17:00

Over the last twenty years, I have been part of a wave of scholars who have offered a new theory and practice for humanistic anthropology, evoking an ethnographic fieldworker who spells out his or her own emotional involvement in the story they are telling; who reflects on the observer as well as the observed. Returning to my notion of “the vulnerable observer,” I hope in this lecture to reflect on the different kinds of vulnerability that ethnographers experience, in fieldwork, in life, and on the page. And since writing creatively is crucial to be able to convey vulnerability, I will discuss the various literary strategies that we can use to bring more poetry and heart into our work.

Ruth Behar is the Victor Haim Perera Collegiate Professor of Anthropology of the University of Michigan. A writer, a cultural anthropologist, and a modern nomad, she has lived and worked in Spain, Mexico and Cuba. She is known for her humanistic approach to understanding identity, immigration, and the search for home in our global era. As much a provocative scholar as a creative writer, Behar is also known for her essays, poetry, and fiction. Ruth Behar was born in Havana, Cuba, and grew up in New York. She is the Victor Haim Perera Collegiate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. Her honors include a MacArthur “Genius” Award, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a Distinguished Alumna Award from Wesleyan University, and an Excellence in Education Award from the University of Michigan. Known for her writing about the search for home in our global era, she is the author of The Presence of the Past in a Spanish Village; Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; and The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart. She is the co-editor of Women Writing Culture, which has become a classic text on women’s literary contributions to anthropology. Ruth frequently visits and writes about her native Cuba and is the author of An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba and Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in between Journeys. She is the editor of the pioneering anthology, Bridges to Cuba, and co-editor of The Portable Island: Cubans at Home in the World. She has written editorials about Cuba for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Huffington Post. Her documentary, Adio Kerida/Goodbye Dear Love: A Cuban Sephardic Journey, distributed by Women Make Movies, has been shown in film festivals around the world. Also a creative writer, her poetry and short fiction appear in Telling Stories: An Anthology for Writers; Burnt Sugar/Caña Quemada: Contemporary Cuban Poetry in English and Spanish; The Whole Island: Six Decades of Cuban Poetry, a Bilingual Anthology; and The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. She has collaborated frequently over the last twenty years with Cuban book artist Rolando Estévez, who has designed handmade books of her poetry, among them, Everything I Kept/Todo lo que guardé and Broken Streets of My City/Las calles rotas de mi ciudad. Moving between English and Spanish, writing in both languages and always aware of her Jewish roots, she explores the convergence of cultures in ways that open new avenues for self-expression, not just for herself, but for others who find themselves “in the between,” searching for meaning in diasporas and exiles. Further information is available on her web site:

Lecture 4: ‘”It’s the epistemology stupid!” The ethics of intersubjectivity in ethnographic practice’          

18.09.2015 – 09:45

Karel Arnaut is associate professor and research coordinator of the Interculturalism, Migration and Minorities Research Centre (IMMRC) at KULeuven. Previously, Arnaut was teaching at the Department of African Languages and Cultures (Ghent University) and Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen. The main focus of his previous research was on student and youth movements, social participation, and transformations of the public sphere in Côte d’Ivoire (West-Africa) as well as on postcolonial dynamics in connection with the public image, the societal position and the diasporic identities of Africa(ns) in Belgium and Europe. He is also editor of the journal African Diaspora. Arnaut’s present research focuses on representations and articulations of cultural and sociolinguistic ‘superdiversity’ in city-based, migration-driven contexts in European-African transnational spaces. He is co-editor of Language and Superdiversity (Routledge) and author of Writing along the margins: literacy and agency in a West African city (Multilingual Matters).

Sean O’Dubhghaill is Doctoral research in the IMMRC, KU Leuven, working on the topic of Irish migration and belonging in Brussels and Leuven. His research focusses specifically on the way in which the Irish abroad are viewed by their host society as well as the ways in which Hibernophilia (or the enjoyment of typically Irish things- pubs, music, the language, the landscape and sport) manifests itself among people in Flanders.

Lecture 5: ‘Encountering the anti-immigration debate: Uneasy laughter’

18.09.2015 – 11:00

Laughter is a physical reaction, a vocal and corporeal expression which can be a result of or a propeller for a multiplicity of feelings or emotions (Kyrölä 2010, 73). In my talk, I trace the multiplicity of feelings and emotions that result in and propel from laughter in the specific instance of doing research on racist and nationalist discussions on immigration. The starting point for my inquiry is the internet ethnography that I am currently doing on Hommaforum which is the main internet forum for anti-immigration debate in Finland. In this research it seems that emotions and affects cannot be avoided, and sometimes these emotions and affects take unexpected forms – such as laughter. I will draw from the theoretical insights of the ‘turn to affect’ and the methodological discussions concerning emotional reflexivity in social sciences in order to account for the affective and emotional reactions that are easily deemed shameful and ‘wrong’ in doing research – such as laughter – and to investigate the ways in which unruly and ethically questionable affects could nevertheless be made part of an ethically responsible research.

Katariina Mäkinen is a research fellow in the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. Her current research investigates the Finnish anti-immigration debate from the perspectives of class and neoliberal citizenship. Mäkinen gained her doctoral degree in Women’s Studies from the University of Tampere in 2012. Her research interests include class and capitalism, gender, working life and individualization.

Lecture 7: ‘On “Lili”. Questioning China girls through the production process of film’

18.09.2015 – 13:15

The anthropologist Michael Taussig refers to Goethe when he states that color has a strikingly colonial history, rooted in the West’s uneasiness with (vivid) color, and its connotations with the so-called primitive (Taussig 2009). Artist David Batchelor agrees that a fear of corruption through color exists within Western thought: “manifesting Chromophobia in the many and varied attempts to purge colour from culture” (Batchelor 2011(2000). Such a cultural bias towards color can also be traced within cinema and film history, where it can be conflated with the study of race and “whiteness”. These studies challenge the privileges given to so-called “whites” and analyze representational practices that perpetuate the fiction of “whiteness”. However, most of the authors who debate chromophobia and “whiteness” in film are looking at end results to build their arguments. By contrast, this presentation wishes to further such analysis by artistically and ethnographically exploring the context of the process of creation and production of film (van Dienderen 2013; 2007; 2004; 2003). More concretely, during this lecture I will screen and discuss my latest short film “Lili” on the tradition of China girls. China Girls are used in cinema history since the 1920s to calibrate the colors of the camera and to control the quality of the print, filming a Caucasian woman with color-grading cards. However, few authors mention the problematic factor that the Caucasian skin is used as a reference, ultimately excluding people of color as they do not conform to the implicit norm.

An van. Dienderen is a filmmaker graduated in audiovisual arts (Sint-Lukas, Brussels), obtained a PhD in Comparative Cultural Sciences (Ghent University), and was a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley. She made several documentaries screened worldwide, awarded with (inter)national prizes. Films include Visitors of the Night (’98), Site (’00), Tu ne verras pas Verapaz (’02), The Ephemerist (’05) Patrasche, a Dog of Flanders – Made in Japan (’08), Cherry Blossoms (’12), Letter Home (’15) and Blush (’15). Her work has been shown on the Margaret Mead Film and Video festival (New York), FID Marseille, DocFest Sheffield, Belluard Festival (Fribourg), DMZ Korea International documentary festival, International Short film Festival Oberhausen, FIDOCS Chili, Festival Internacional de Documentales de Santiago, International Filmfestival Rotterdam, among others. She regularly publishes on visual/performative anthropology, is a lecturer at the School of Arts Ghent, and initiated the international art workspace SoundImageCulture, which helps artists to develop projects in the bordering zone between documentary, anthropology and visual arts.

Master Classes

MASTER CLASS 1: Rozita Dimova: Ethnographic observations of objects, things, commodities, designs,…

coordinator: Fiorella Bucci

Room: 120.015

The master class will focus on anthropological approaches to material objects and how people interact with materiality. The class will begin by outlining different theories of object/subject relationships, and how anthropology, with its ethnographic methods, has studied and conceptualized objects, things, commodities or designs in different societies. We will examine how anthropology has shifted from studying “primitive” or “less-complex” societies to more contemporary approaches to capitalist and neoliberal global conditions that produce specific frameworks of consumption. By drawing on Marxist, psycho-analytic, and philosophical traditions that inform anthropological approaches to objects and materiality, one of the central aim of this class will be to dissect the meanings of concepts such as agency, power, fetishism, human/non-human interaction, actor-network theory, and the knowledge they shed on studying materiality.

  • Each student will have to produce a one-page biography of an object that is most meaningful to her/him.  A detailed description of the physicality of the object should be followed by a sketch of the symbolic, utilitarian, aesthetic or other features/meanings attached to the that particular object.
  • The second assignment will be a one-page biography of a building that is meaningful or meaningless to the student with a textual description and analysis of its main features.

The assignments should be sent to me two days prior to the master class. Several of these assignments will be read in class, followed by a discussion.

Readings recommended for the class:

“Designing Ourselves” by Daniel Miller in Design Anthropology: Object Culture in the 21st Century, ed. Alison J. Clarke. SpringerWienNewYork (2010), 88-98.

Chapter 1 from Outside Lies Magic by John Stilgoe, Walker Books, 2009, 1-57.

MASTER CLASS 2: Lisa Dikomitis: Participant observation today

coordinator: Nella van den Brandt

Room: 120.012

Because of medical issues David Berliner has cancelled his participation. Dr. Lisa Dikomitis has kindly agreed to take over the master class. 


– Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1922. « Introduction. The Subject, Method and Scope of this Inquiry ». Dans: The Argonauts of the Western Pacific. Pp. 1-25. New York: Dutton.

– Hannerz, Ulf. 1969. Soulside. Inquiries into Ghetto Culture and Community. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.  Read the appendix: « In the Field ».

– Berliner, David. 2008. « The Anthropologist in the Middle of a Tug-of-War (Guinea-Conakry) ». Men and Masculinities 11: 174-185

Prior to the class, students must write a 1-page essay describing how they will use participant observation in their own research (and if not, why they do not). They send it to me 2 days before the class at The three readings are also compulsory and will be discussed in the class.

MASTER CLASS 3: Katariina Mäkinen: The role of empathy in doing qualitative research

coordinator: An Van Raemdonck

Room: 120.015

It is often claimed that the ability to be empathetic is one of the main skills needed to undertake qualitative research, and feminist researchers in particular have emphasized empathy as a central part of the ‘emotion work’ undertaken by the researcher. Empathy in research, however, is not a straightforwardly ‘good thing’, as the ideal of building empathetic and trustful relations with the subjects of the research can be difficult to reach, and the emotional costs for the researcher can be extremely heavy to bear. Furthermore, the role of empathetic connections in doing research becomes particularly ambiguous when scholars are studying ‘unloved’ or actively hostile or frightening groups, such as outspoken racists, or online communities that invite and support hate speech.

Cate Watson (2009: 114) suggests that we should be suspicious of empathy and subject our empathetic responses to a rigorous scrutiny. Following her lead, this master class takes a critical perspective on the various uses and abuses of empathy in doing qualitative research. The class will consist of readings (see below) and presentations in which students are welcome to bring into discussion their own ethical and methodological puzzles concerning empathy, trust and ‘emotion work’ in ethnographic research.


Dickson-Swift V, James LE, Kippen S and Liamputtong P (2009) Researching sensitive topics: qualitative research as emotion work. Qualitative Research 9(1): 61–79.

Watson C (2009) The ‘impossible vanity’: uses and abuses of empathy in qualitative inquiry. Qualitative Research 9(1): 105–117.

Blee KM (1998) White-Knuckle Research: Emotional dynamics in Fieldwork with Racist Activists. Qualitative Sociology 21(4): 381–399.

The assignment consists of the writing of a short essay on your own research related to the theme of the masterclass (more details will be provided later)

MASTER CLASS 4: Lisa Dikomitis: From field notes to ethnography: from ‘doing’ ethnography to ‘writing’ ethnography in a reflexive way

coordinator: Ayla Joncheere

Room: 120.012

This master class is concerned with writing ‘field notes’ and writing ‘ethnographic texts’—and the differences between the two. Particular focus will be on the necessity and possibilities, as well as limitations and problems, of self-reflexivity in ethnographic practice. We will discuss how our different positions (in terms of, for instance, class, gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity) inform and impact upon ‘doing’ ethnography and ‘writing’ ethnography. How do we write ourselves into, or leave out of, our texts? We will use your own field notes as material to work with and we will discuss the differences between ‘doing ethnographic fieldwork’ and just being in the field. The following questions will be addressed: What kinds of non-verbal and non-visual things might be observed and written about? How do we use all our senses to provide an ethnographic depth and richness? What sort of texts are ‘ethnographic texts’ and in what ways is ethnographic ‘authority’ established? What is a reflexive text and who is to judge this?

Organizing Committee


Dr. Katrien De Graeve , Centre for Research on Culture and Gender, Department of Languages and Cultures, Ghent University

Organizing Team:

Dr. Katrien De Graeve, Prof. Dr. Chia Longman, Maaike Goethals, Nella van de Brandt, An Van Raemdonck & Amal Miri; Centre for Research on Culture and Gender, Department of Languages and Cultures, Ghent University

Scientific Committee:

  • Dr. Katrien De Graeve, Prof. Dr. Rozita Dimova, Prof. Dr. Chia Longman, Prof. Dr. Koen Stroeken, Department of Languages and Cultures, Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Ghent University
  • Prof. Dr. Karel Arnaut, Prof. Dr. Noel Salazar, Interculturalism, Migration and Minorities Research Centre, Faculty of Social Science, Leuven University
  • Dr. Noel Clycq, Centre for Migration and Intercultural Studies, Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, University of Antwerp