Program in Ethnographic Studies


  • Acting Director

    • John Borneman
  • Executive Committee

    • Mark R. Beissinger
    • John Borneman
    • Amy B. Borovoy
    • Mitchell Duneier
    • Judith Hamera
    • Ryo Morimoto
    • Daniel I. Rubenstein
    • J. Nicole Shelton
    • Susan L. Sugarman
    • Stacy E. Wolf
    • Deborah J. Yashar
  • Sits with Committee

    • Jeffrey D. Himpele
    • Derek B. Lidow
    • Yi-Ching Ong
    • Evan M. Schneider
    • Trisha Thorme

Program Information

What is ethnography? Ethnography is hands-on learning about people in their communities, shaped by the recognition of cultural diversity both at home (wherever that may be) and abroad. Relevant wherever people are relevant, ethnography is a qualitative research method central to knowing the world from the standpoint of its social relations. It is also a distinctive method of representing that knowledge effectively in writing. It is as useful for work in the natural sciences and engineering as it is integral to the social sciences and humanities, relating to many forms of academic and personal experience: studying abroad, doing international internships, conducting independent research, or engaging in community service. Students of ethnography learn to recognize, read, and evaluate qualitative evidence; apply their insights to everyday life; and think critically about society across diverse cultural fields at their sites of study, service, and research. 

What can I expect to learn? The Program in Ethnographic Studies (ETH) is intended for undergraduate students in all divisions as a supplement or complement to their department concentration or other certificate studies. Students learn how to apply ethnographic methods and ethics as additional resources during study abroad, internships, and independent research. Field sites may be international or U.S.-based. As students return to campus from the field, the program helps them integrate their experience "away" with their academic work at Princeton. In this way, ethnographic studies may enrich students' experience within their own fields of study, or just deepen their personal appreciation of the human dimensions of globalization and other aspects of the modern world.

What does the certificate program offer? A pair of core courses on key concepts and ethnographic research methods and ethics, elective courses on methods and cultural analysis, and advising support for an ethnographic component in students' independent research in fulfillment of the program's writing requirement — either as part of the senior thesis or as a separate paper.

Admission to the Program

The Anthropology Department offers the certificate in ethnographic studies to concentrators in all departments, with the exception of Anthropology.

Students may register for the program at any time after their first enrollment at Princeton. Courses taken prior to program registration may be counted. There are no prerequisites for joining the program but students must complete ANT 301 (The Ethnographer's Craft) as a prerequisite to conducting ethnographic fieldwork. Interested students should meet as soon as possible with the program manager by requesting an appointment online.

Program Requirements

1. Courses. Five courses comprising a core sequence of two ANT courses plus three electives (details below). Program courses may be applied towards satisfaction of other academic requirements to the extent that one course used for ETH certificate requirements may be a departmental course in the student's concentration and two ETH courses may be ones also used to satisfy requirements of other certificate programs, no matter how many other certificates the student pursues.

2. Ethnographic research. Drawing on the diverse methods introduced in ANT 301 and certain elective courses, fieldwork should be the student's main activity over at least four weeks (normally continuous), and may be undertaken in conjunction with senior thesis research, study abroad, international or community-based internships, or other positions. Prior to beginning their fieldwork, students will demonstrate proficiency in the relevant field or contact language and acquire Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for research projects involving human subjects, if applicable.

3. Ethnographic writing. A senior thesis that addresses the student's ethnographic research in some explicit way (throughout the thesis or as a discrete chapter, as appropriate), or a separate paper if the student's ethnographic study is unrelated to the thesis topic. Students submitting a separate paper will complete the writing component under the certificate adviser's guidance. The paper may be submitted during the fall or spring semester. If submitting a senior thesis, students should plan their writing component carefully in consultation with their major adviser and  the certificate adviser. The ethnographic studies certificate program provides advising on an ongoing basis, but this advising is supplemental to, and does not replace, senior thesis advising in the student's department of concentration. Students interested in completing the writing requirement in their junior year may do so in consultation with the certificate adviser, if they have taken ANT 301 and fulfilled the other pre-fieldwork requirements (as described above, under "Ethnographic Research").

Core courses:

ANT 300 "Ethnography, Evidence and Experience": A fall semester course that may be taken anytime up to and including fall of senior year. The course develops concepts relevant to analyzing and writing up students' ethnographic research.

ANT 301 "The Ethnographer's Craft": A spring semester course that must be taken no later than spring of junior year and prior to fieldwork. The course introduces students to the practical aspects of ethnographic research, including research ethics, and is designed to support students' development of a research proposal for ethnographic research, usually undertaken during the summer before senior year.

ANT 300 and ANT 301 are not sequential courses. In Ethnographic Studies, ANT 301 is designed for second-semester juniors and ANT 300 is designed for first-semester seniors, but either or both courses may be taken earlier, assuming adequate preparation. (See "Study Abroad" below for more details.) Descriptions of these two core courses can be found under the course listings of the Department of Anthropology.

Elective courses:

Elective courses cover two content areas: Ethnographic Methods and Research Ethics (to help students integrate ethnographic inquiry with research methods that they learn during their broader course of study) and Ethnographic and Cultural Contexts (to give students opportunities to apply cultural analysis in local, regional, or institutional contexts involving diverse subjects, settings, and/or media). The three electives for each student must be chosen from courses offered by at least two different academic units and must include at least one course in each content area. More information about elective courses can be found on the Ethnographic Studies program website. For approval of elective courses, the program manager acts on behalf of and in consultation with the program director, who consults with the executive committee on curriculum matters.

Study Abroad

Students who anticipate studying abroad in the spring of their junior year should take ANT 301 in sophomore or first year or consult with the program about the possibility of satisfying the ANT 301 requirement with a different Princeton course or a course taken abroad, if available. One elective course for the certificate may also be satisfied abroad with program preapproval.

Certificate of Proficiency

Students who complete the program requirements will be awarded a certificate in ethnographic studies upon graduation.