Field work in rural districts

Subject: Anthropology. Couse: Ethnographic methods. Study level: Master. 

Motivation for the activity

I was contacted by an architectural company that had received money for a project on the development of rural districts. They had some issues that they would like to get some students to examine.

Central learning outcomes for the course

This course must teach the students to prepare, carry out and communicate their field work. The exam consists of a methodology, where they are in the field for 2-3 weeks and then write an assignment.

Description of the activity

Prior to the course we have some meetings with the architects.

The architects want an analysis from the students. I use this information in my teaching, and I get some of the students to commit themselves to the project. I underline to the students that being involved will make demands on them: They will have to use extra time outside of the teaching and they will be involved in planning the project.

I do not write contracts with the students, though I have considered doing this.

In the normal teaching we use the architectural company as a case and start to work towards defining what they will have to do. At the end of the semester the students write their exam assignments as normal.

But the project is not over yet.

Once they have submitted their assignments, the students who have committed to the project subsequently write an article on the basis of the exam assignment. I have meetings with the students and discuss how we can get the work published and proofread their articles. Finally, I write a preface.

Once the project is over the students have presented their projects at a public meeting in the rural municipality. Of course they do this really well, but we cannot give them a grade for this as it is not part of any course of study.

Outcome of the activity

This type of activity is where I really find active and committed students.

The students come because they can see the benefit of getting their fingers into something tangible, which can be used for something. The report that we produced in 2008 is still available on the website of the Municipality of Struer in Denmark. One of the articles is e.g. about how difficult it is to establish associations, and this has subsequently been taken up by the municipality.

Reflections on the activity

A large part of the project takes place outside of the teaching. The students do not receive anything for it and I use a lot more time than I have credited. It is a bit a mess, but I find it very inspiring to see how much energy the students put into it.

There is a lack of appreciation for this type of activity in the system. It lies outside of the teaching and can neither be characterised as teaching nor research.

Short film: To live together

Read more about:

  • THEME: Conducting research with students

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