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Our experienced and friendly team will support you in developing a practical understanding of ethnography. The course will be led by Caitlin Pilbeam and Prof Catherine Pope. Caitlin works jointly between Medical Anthropology and Primary Care, and her current work focusses on home-based ethnography with people who have chronic degenerative illnesses towards end of life. She has taught ethnographic methods, ethical practice, and writing to many students and researchers from a wide variety of disciplines. Catherine is a Professor of Medical Sociology and has 30 years’ experience of conducting qualitative observational research in health care settings including operating theatres, outpatient clinics, General Practices, ambulances and 999 and NHS 111 call centres.

Whilst there are no prerequisites for this course, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of qualitative research. An intention to conduct qualitative research is desirable, as it is useful to apply the learning to your own work with the lenses we provide during this course. The course will be relatively small and discussion-based, to preserve the flexibility of small-group teaching, and ensure we can respond to the needs and interests of the particular class.

Please note, this course does not cover broader qualitative methodology and methods in great depth. For more extensive overviews, please see our  ‘Introduction to qualitative research methods’ course.


  • Lectures on the origins and nature of ethnographic research and observation as a method, and its application to the study of health and social care
  • Group discussions about what ethnography is, the researcher’s assumptions and potential impact (i.e. positionality and reflexivity), ethical practice in different field settings, and consideration of critiques of the method, and its limitations and advantages
  • Hands-on exercises to develop your observation skills, and explore how to pay attention to phenomena in different ways (depending on the access needs of the class, this may include an excursion to a local area)
  • A guided assessment of a published ethnography/exemplar  


By the end of the course, participants will:

  • Have an understanding of what ethnography is, when and why it is used, and what distinguishes it from other kinds of qualitative research
  • Be able to recognise the kinds of questions posed by ethnographers, and say how one might go about exploring these by conducting ethnographic research in a range of settings
  • Have an appreciation of the practical and ethical issues confronting ethnographic researchers
  • Be able to discuss the strengths and limitations of ethnographic research
  • Have an understanding of how the researcher interacts with and can impact the research setting (i.e. positionality and reflexivity)