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bullet AP/SOSC4604 3.0A Aspects of Development Research: The Field Experience
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SOSC 4604 3.0
Aspects of Development Research: The Field Experience

Winter 2020

Course Director: Professor J.A. Hellman
Office 133 Founders College
Telephone: 736-2100 ext. 44087   
Web site:
Office hours: TBA

Course Description

By 4th year, International Development Students will have been exposed to a large body of literature much of which examines badly conceived development projects, well-conceived projects with unfortunate unexpected outcomes and, occasionally, projects that could be said to have worked very well, at least for the period of time under study.

This course explores the ways that ethnographic fieldwork can help us to formulate development goals and projects that are likely to have positive outcomes for the people whose lives will be impacted by the proposed changes.  To do this, we will examine both new and long utilized qualitative methods and approaches to the study of the people who become the subjects of ethnographic research but also – sometimes only a generation later – the protagonists in development projects. 

Thus, we will look at the issues and challenges of qualitative research in the field. Using the approach of sociology of knowledge, we consider what have been regarded over time as ethical and efficacious practices in fieldwork, along with some of the most serious fieldwork mishaps, if not to say disasters, beginning in the 1960s with the crisis for researchers generated by the CIA sponsorship of “Project Camelot” in Latin America, and with the use of ethnographic work that had been carried out in Indochina in decades past that was employed by the U.S. military in the 1960s and 1970s to advance the pursuit of the war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

From this period, we move forward to trace the evolution of scholars’ and practitioners’ thinking about the techniques and the ethics of inserting oneself into other people's lives and the terms under which we enter “strange foreign lands” --- including "foreign" places that are right next door within the society in which we are based, that is, the one we call “home.” 
In this effort, we will also trace the evolution of thinking about fieldwork and how fieldwork can contribute to the formulation of better, more realistic, more effective development projects. To do this we will examine the writings of the most candid practitioners who have engaged in critical reflection about basic “epistemological” questions: that is, how we know what we know about the people whose lives we hope our projects will improve, and what is the role that well-conceived research projects can play in this effort.  The course concludes with a consideration of the most recent debates around “action research,” volunteer work, “positionality” and ethnography not only as “curiosity based research,” but as research for development. 


The final grade for the course will be based on:



Well-informed participation in discussion:


Mid-term (in class) exam which will be based on the required readings and held Feb. 23rd  


Final Exam 25%

Fieldwork Essay (of which 5% will be allotted to the oral presentation in class) 


Your Fieldwork Essay will consist of your report on either an interview or series of interviews you have carried out with a “research subject” or, alternatively, your report on your observation, or participant-observation of the meetings of an organization that is involved in fostering change of some kind. This exercise is intended to hone your skills in observation and/or your ability to come away from an interview with useful, meaningful material.  In the course of carrying out this fieldwork, you will have the opportunity to ask and answer all the most important ethical questions that we will be studying in the course of the term.     

SOSC 4604 consists of one three-hour session each week in which the assigned readings will be discussed.  All students are expected to complete the required readings, think carefully about them before coming to class, and take an active part in the discussion. Except for the brief report that you will give on your fieldwork experience, generally no oral reports will be assigned. Instead, all seminar members will be expected to come prepared to introduce, summarize, and analyze any of the required readings upon request of the instructor. 

Given the centrality of seminar participation, anyone absent from seminar more than once will lose participation points except in the case of a fully documented medical problem or emergency. Those who regularly come late to class will lose participation credit in proportion to their tardiness. 

The policies regarding missed examinations will be as stated on Professor Canel’s website at the following link

Download PDF version of the full course description.

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