Hands-on Anthropology and Ethnographic Storytelling

Ethnography or what Clifford Geertz called ‘deep-hanging out’ (1998) is becoming an increasingly popular research method among the main social science disciplines like anthropology and sociology. Ethnography provides a unique perspective which helps to explain the complexities of our everyday lives. This course will present such complexities in an exciting, and accessible manner, so as to keep the content engaging. The bulk of the course is based on the combination of storytelling with ethnographic methodologies and theory. The multidisciplinary approach will help students to think outside the box regarding how to convert collected data, observations, and field notes into enticing stories that are both scientifically convincing and socially relevant.

Session 14 July to 18 July 2020
Course levelAdvanced Bachelor/Master, open to PhD staff and professionals
Co-ordinating lecturers                
Dr. Younes Saramifar
Forms of tuitionInteractive seminars, Work groups, lectures
Forms of assessmentEthnographic narrative and presentation
Credits3 ECTS
Contact hours45 hours
Tuition fee€1150, read more about what's included
Accommodation and social programme
How to apply
Find our application form here

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. If you have doubts about your eligibility for the course, please let us know. Our courses are multi-disciplinary and therefore are open to students and professionals with a wide variety of backgrounds. 

This course focusses on practical anthropology and practical learning with a particular emphasis on the construction of ethnographic stories through imaginative and speculative thinking.  Our hands-on training will equip students with the necessary skills to conduct interviews, and the use of sound and sensory data in ethnographic stories. The course has been designed in collaboration with Masha Ru, the artist in residence of the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study, in order to push the methodological boundaries and encourage students to innovate and experiment with the method.

The VU Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology has collaborated with NGOs, Social Activists, and Artists, to present a practical approach to anthropology which turns scientific endeavors into a collaborative process that empowers both the research and the researchers. The course  has strong foundations in the principle of Do Anthropology Yourself (DAY), and as such, there will be ample opportunity to interact with creative writers, experienced ethnographers, and anthropologists as well as refugees and practitioners.

This course stresses learning through the lens of through the practice of storytelling, with regards to anthropology. Practical anthropology brings together reflexivity and academic research to show how students can turn their field-notes and observations into coherent narratives which are scientifically valid.

Students of the course will work closely with artists, social workers and practitioners, discussing both methodologies and writing styles. Then, students will do a short piece of coursework, under the supervision of the course coordinator, before starting to write their ethnographic stories. The students will be guided during writing workshops and nature walks all the while learning how to incorporate sensory elements and develop their storytelling skills.

The students will learn how to weave narratives with an anthropological perspective by way of ethnographic storytelling, but without reducing the world into a construct of their imaginations. This aspect of the course highlights the political importance narrative and storytelling by encouraging students to remain culturally sensitive regarding the stories they gather from their interviewees and correspondence.

Practical anthropology guides you through the process of gathering stories as the basis for a scientific inquiry, using simple but effective fieldwork tools (such as mobile phones, Voice Recorder, Social Media). It will also set you up to present findings through creative writing, photo essays, and oral storytelling.

Amsterdam is one of the better places to practice the methodologies taught in this course. As one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, and home to people of 180 nationalities, there are plenty of fascinating personal stories to tackle here. Students will have the opportunity to hear stories from guest speakers and also ask questions to better understand how their stories should be conveyed in a culturally and ethically sensitive manner. Working with experienced ethnographers and creative writers, students will learn to construct narratives in collaboration with interlocutors. In other words, this is the process of transforming lived experiences into creative stories with an academic appeal.

It goes without saying, this is a highly practical course requiring your active participation throughout. It is organised by the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology which invites different nonacademic partners every year to VU Amsterdam to be involved in this course.

We organise different excursions every year according to current events in Amsterdam and our annual partner. We will go to the storytelling café where students can experience storytelling in a non-academic setting, and we also visit festivals and some interesting areas of Amsterdam for your coursework.

The details of the excursions will be announced according to the size of the class and their level of commitment to ethnographic storytelling.

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.

Students are asked to familiarize themselves with ‘From Oral to Written: An Anthropological Breakthrough in Storytelling’ by Jack Goody, ‘Storytelling Events, Violence, and the Appearance of the Past’ by Michael Jackson, , ‘The anthropology of storytelling and the storytelling of anthropology’ by Rodolfo Maggio, ‘

Do you want to make the most out of your summer? You can combine this course with the following courses in session 2: