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Political Ethnography

What Immersion Contributes to the Study of Power

Political Ethnography

What Immersion Contributes to the Study of Power

Scholars of politics have sought in recent years to make the discipline more hospitable to qualitative methods of research. Lauding the results of this effort and highlighting its potential for the future, Political Ethnography makes a compelling case for one such method in particular. Ethnography, the contributors amply demonstrate in a wide range of original essays, is uniquely suited for illuminating the study of politics.

Situating these pieces within the context of developments in political science, Edward Schatz provides an overarching introduction and substantive prefaces to each of the volume’s four sections. The first of these parts addresses the central ontological and epistemological issues raised by ethnographic work, while the second grapples with the reality that all research is conducted from a first-person perspective. The third section goes on to explore how ethnographic research can provide fresh perspectives on such perennial topics as opinion, causality, and power. Concluding that political ethnography can and should play a central role in the field as a whole, the final chapters illuminate the many ways in which ethnographic approaches can enhance, improve, and, in some areas, transform the study of politics.


“How did we get a political science that methodologically assumed its ordinary human subjects had no insights into the operation of power? Here, happily, are diverse, sustained arguments and practical demonstrations of the value of a social science not conducted entirely behind people’s backs. Political Ethnography is both inspiring and instructive.”

James C. Scott, Yale University

"Until now, political scientists interested in ethnography have had to turn to texts in other fields for enlightenment. Finally illuminating the many ways in which ethnographic approaches can contribute to the study of politics, this book will occupy an important and distinctive place in political science. Extremely well written, it does an excellent job of providing concrete examples of successful ethnographic research and, at the same time, linking methodology to fundamental philosophical ideas about the way the world works."

Gregory Kasza, Indiana University

Table of Contents

Myron J. Aronoff


Edward Schatz
Introduction / Ethnographic Immersion and the Study of Politics

Part I : Two Traditions of Political Ethnography

Jan Kubik
One / Ethnography of Politics: Foundations, Applications, Prospects

Jessica Allina-Pisano
Two / How to Tell an Axe Murderer: An Essay on Ethnography, Truth, and Lies

Lisa Wedeen
Three / Ethnography as Interpretive Enterprise

Part II : First-Person Research

Cyrus Ernesto Zirakzadeh
Four / When Nationalists Are Not Separatists: Discarding and Recovering Academic Theories While Doing Fieldwork in the Basque Region of Spain

Elisabeth Jean Wood
Five / Ethnographic Research in the Shadow of Civil War

Timothy Pachirat
Six / The Political in Political Ethnography: Dispatches from the Kill Floor

Part III : Ethnography’s Varied Contributions

Katherine Cramer Walsh
Seven / Scholars as Citizens: Studying Public Opinion through Ethnography

Michael G. Schatzberg
Eight / Ethnography and Causality: Sorcery and Popular Culture in the Congo

Cédric Jourde
Nine / The Ethnographic Sensibility: Overlooked Authoritarian Dynamics and Islamic Ambivalences in West Africa

Lorraine Bayard de Volo
Ten / Participant-Observation, Politics, and Power Relations: Nicaraguan Mothers and U.S. Casino Waitresses

Part IV : Placing Ethnography in the Discipline

Enrique Desmond Arias
Eleven / Ethnography and the Study of Latin American Politics: An Agenda for Research

Corey Shdaimah, Roland Stahl, and Sanford F. Schram
Twelve / When You Can See the Sky through Your Roof: Policy Analysis from the Bottom Up

Dvora Yanow
Thirteen / Dear Author, Dear Reader: The Third Hermeneutic in Writing and Reviewing Ethnography

Edward Schatz
Conclusion / What Kind(s) of Ethnography Does Political Science Need?

Works Cited

List of Contributors



Qualitative and Multi-Methods Section, American Political Science Association: Giovanni Sartori Book Award

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