After fieldwork: Methodological reflections

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Only for the 4th year PhD students in "Political Science and Sociology" and in "Transnational Governance"


This course is reserved exclusively to the IV year students of the PhDs in "Political Science and Sociolgy" and in "Transnational Governance" of the Scuola Normale Superiore.

The seminar will have a workshop format, which means that participating IV year PhD students will be required to be active during the course. Before the beginning of the seminar each participant will need to upload a 5 pages paper outlining their fieldwork, in terms of: a very brief outline of the project (half page, no more); provide an overview of all the empirical material collected or closed to be collected (2 pages, no more); possible issues that have emerged during the fieldwork (including problems) (2 pages, no more); what next and which dilemmas (half a page, no more). Deadline for submission will be one week before the start of the seminar. The text should be submitted in a Google drive folder opened by the teacher. The intent of this 5 pages paper is to prompt each IV student to reflect and consider their own fieldwork experience, but also to share this with their colleagues.



Session N. 1 Introduction: Wednesday 8, November 2023

(h. 11:00-13:00)

In the first session we will focus on the presentation of the seminar, on how to organise and work with fieldwork material.



Session N. 2 Fieldwork experience: Monday 13, November 2023  

(h. 15:00-18:00)

In the second session we will examine each other’s ongoing or recently finished fieldwork experiences, discussing, for example: how the fieldwork challenges our literatures; possible problems we have experienced while entering, conducting and leaving fieldwork; the emotions and feelings that one experiences while doing fieldwork; and so on. The discussion will be based on comments from peers and the teacher on the pre-circulated texts.​ The session will finish with the identification of shared challenges, dilemmas, (good and bad) practices, coping mechanisms we have had during our fieldwork experiences. These will be classified, clustered, in a way that we will be able to elaborate further in the next session.



Session N. 3 Reflexivity and positionality: Monday 27, November 2023

(h. 10:00-13:00)

The fourth session aims to ​​​​prompt PhDs to reflect on how they are positioned and related to their field of knowledge and subjects of study. Starting from reflections on ontology and epistemology in the social sciences, possible questions to engage with in this session may include: Who are we in our fields?  How is our knowledge situated? Which are the power relations in which we are engaged while developing our research? How are we dealing with issues of “otherness” and self-representation? What are the borders between researcher-activist roles, and how do we navigate through them? From these and other reflections elicited in this session we will share, exchange and elaborate deeper insights about how we are managing our positionality in the research, the practice of reflexivity during and after fieldwork (and in between) and ways forward in the writing process.



Session N. 4 Fieldwork unpacking: Monday 4, December 2023

(h. 11:00-13:00)

The fifth session will to unpack the fieldwork material: presenting the data collected so far; asking how the data have been collected; did these answer the research questions; filtering social realities and transform them into relevant data; connecting these to analytical concepts; thinking of risks involved and ethical challenges in publishing the gathered data after the fieldwork; and so on. The discussion will be based on comments from peers and the teacher on the pre-circulated texts.



Session N. 5 Academic writing after fieldwork research: Monday 11, December  2023

(h. 10-13; 15-17)

Guest lecturer: Niall O’Dochartaigh, University of Galway,

This session offers guidance on writing your dissertation and your first academic publications. Topics include: clarifying your central contribution; relating your fieldwork data to your theoretical claims; developing your argument; writing your introduction and conclusion; techniques for revising; being concise; responding to reviewers.


In advance of the session identify one piece of writing you wish to focus on. This could be a chapter from your PhD, the entire dissertation, or a publication you are working on. Bring a short description of that piece of writing (300 to 500 words) to the class. This will form the basis for discussion in the afternoon class.



Session N. 6 Presentations and discussion / Structuring the dissertation  Tuesday 19, December  2023

(h. 10:00-13:00; 14:30-16:30) (in presence and online)

This session will focus on the presentation and discussion of each participant's paper. Main questions to tackle include: What is the topic of your thesis? What is your research question? Why is it significant? What is your methodology for investigating this question? Which are the initial results? Are there some dilemmas connected with the fieldwork or after it that you want to bring to the class?


The second part of this session will look at how to structure a PhD dissertation and first publications. It will look at different approaches PhD dissertations can be structured around, but we will also discuss how fieldwork should be written? Which sections in a PhD dissertation should engage with it? When to bring in your voice and that of your interlocutors? We often end up wanting to describe it in neat sections. However, fieldwork is far from neat and instead of concealing what went wrong in the writing up in this session we will tackle what was disappointing/went wrong during fieldwork and how to bring it and frame it in the research. Should we also discuss what went wrong? Our confusion during an interview? An interaction/encounter that went the wrong way? How underpreparedness or hesitation affect interactions or even access to archives.

Obiettivi formativi

The aim of this seminar is to assist IV year PhDs from SNS in thinking through the many aspects of moving from data collection to writing their thesis dissertation. In particular, this seminar is oriented to reflecting on preparing for fieldwork, the fieldwork experience, unpacking the fieldwork material, implementing methodological reflections on the outcome of ongoing/already accomplished research fieldwork, highlighting the difficulties we all have in making analytical sense of the fieldwork material, and starting to structure the dissertation. Wishing to establish the link between the concrete fieldwork and more abstract theoretical and methodological assumptions, this seminar engages IV year PhDs who are producing/have produced fieldwork research and discuss how this aspect of their PhD work relates to their theoretical framework. The seminar is NOT aimed to provide one solution in the shift from fieldwork to PhD dissertation writing. If anyhow helpful its main aims are a) to get in depth peer-to-peer and teachers feedback; b) the possibility to learn about each other’s reflections on research fieldwork and how to move to work on the writing of the dissertation.