Hands-on Anthropology: Role of the Ethnographer

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Hands-on Anthropology: Role of the Ethnographer

  • Host University

    Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

  • Location

    Amsterdam, The Netherlands

  • Area of Study


  • Language Level

    Taught In English

    Hours & Credits

  • ECTS Credits

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    Everyone has a story to tell. For anthropologists, such accounts can reveal as much about the people and societies we study as more conventional research. But the process of collecting stories in the field and retelling them in the academic arena is littered with pitfalls. How do we ensure that our subjects are fairly represented? How do we construct a culturally sensitive narrative whilst maintaining scientific validity?

    Advanced Bachelor

    This course focuses on hands-on anthropology with strong orientation toward storytelling and narrating the life of others from cultural anthropological perspectives. The course is hand-on which means students learn to utilize the skills that they have gathered through their own lived experience as well as the training that receive during the course. Hand-on anthropology brings together reflexivity and academic trainings to show how students can turn their field-notes and observations into coherent narrative that are scientifically valid.

    The course is divided in two sessions and they are interdependent of each other however, the sessions are not each other pre-requisite. Students can participate and enrol in either the first block or the second one or they could combine the sessions:

    The First Session concentrates on the role of the researcher in the research and how an ethnographic narrative is effected by the ethnographer. The students learn how to tell an ethnographic story through our program DAY (Do Anthropology Yourself). DAY encourages students to consider the background and positionality in ways that they see and perceive the world. By the end of the first block, students learn how to assemble an ethnographic puzzle and construct a coherent narrative that begins with them and it ends with socially relevant conclusion.

    There can be few better places to practise this method than Amsterdam. As one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, home to people of 180 nationalities, fascinating personal stories abound here. At the heart of DAY are interactive conversational workshops at which you learn intriguing stories from practitioners and people from various walks of life. Students hear and listen stories from invited speakers and get the chance to practice and ask from them how their stories should be conveyed in a culturally and ethically sensitive manner. Working with experienced ethnographers and creative writers, you learn to construct narratives in collaboration with your interlocutors. In other words, how to turn lived experiences into creative stories with an academic appeal. 

    Along the way, we guide you through the process of gathering stories as the basis for a scientific inquiry, using simple but effective fieldwork tools (such as mobile phones), and presenting them through “low-tech” media like creative writing and oral storytelling. Obviously, this is a highly practical course requiring your active participation throughout. It is organized by the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at VU Amsterdam in collaboration with social research studio Pollinize and youth theatre project Studio 52nd.

    At the end of this course, you:   

    • Are familiar with research methods and crafting styles in scientific inquiry. 
    • Have acquired fieldwork abilities and strengthened your skills in culturally sensitive research and analysis. 
    • Grasp the power of biography and representation embedded within stories. 
    • Have gained experience in collaborative storytelling and making digital visual narratives. 
    • Can reflect on the idea of “empowerment through participation” and address power inequalities in your research. 

    Interactive seminars, work groups, lectures

    Ethnographic narrative and presentation 

    An interactive tour “under the skin of Amsterdam”, explaining changes in the city’s landscape and the rise of its active civil society. The excursion ends in Café Mezrab, where you can listen to stories and stand-up comedians or share your own stories on the open mike. 

    Students and professionals in the field of social sciences and behavioural studies, humanities, Business Administration, Medical consultancy and Social work with an interest in human behaviour, fieldwork, ethnography, interviews and storytelling.