Methodology: "the principled practice by which theory and the concrete world are both constituted and brought into discursive relationship with one another" (John Comaroff 2010)

  • Course: ANTH 898-077/COMM 825-001 Decolonizing Methodology (Spring 2015)
  • Classroom: Stone Center 200
  • Days/Hours: Monday 11-1:50pm

Co-Instructor: Jean Dennison

Co-Instructor: Patricia Parker

This class seeks to explore the fundamental connection between critical social theory and qualitative research through readings, discussion, and workshop techniques. The class is divided into three sections: 1. The Problems of Research: Why should research methodology be 'decolonized'? What lineages of critique shape the practice and underlying theory of participatory research today? 2. Methods in Practice: What approaches, from interviews to videos, can research employ to enable greater engagement? What practical issues arise when working with communities to generate knowledge? 3. Student Projects: How can participatory research be integrated into graduate-level research projects? What resources and support, as well as challenges and barriers, do students face in doing participatory research currently?


1) Critically assess research methodologies with attention to problems of power, difference, and colonial structures of knowledge production; 2) analyze and discuss methodological questions and problems 3) create a plan for research that acknowledges these problems and structures (even if it does not escape them); 4) proceed with hope and caution in their future research endeavors


Because this is a hands-on and discussion-oriented class, attendance is critical. The format of the class necessitates that everyone not only come to class, but come having thoroughly read and processed the materials assigned. Credit for participation cannot be made up. If you cannot attend class you must talk to the professor before the class begins.


Participation (15%): If you do not attend class, you cannot participate. Therefore, attendance is required (see policy on attendance above). Furthermore, there is no way to make an “H” in the class if you do not come to class with a solid understanding of the reading and actively participate in class each week.

At all times, we need to remember to respect each other's ideas and comments. Learning to be a good researcher and writer is about learning to listen and consider other peoples' viewpoints carefully and thoughtfully as well as engaging with texts. Many of us will be unfamiliar with some if not all of the course material. If you don't understand a word or concept, look it up prior to class.

Leading Class (15%): Each discussion week, students will work in pairs to lead class discussion. When it is your group's turn, you will be required to lead class for roughly half of the class period. Your job will primarily be to craft a list of discussion questions or a class exercise, which brings attention to specific passages from the reading for the week and engages the class in discussion. You should also be able to provide additional background and your own reading of the material to help facilitate the discussion or exercise. You success will be judged primarily on your ability to engage your fellow students in a productive discussion.

Question Posting (20%): For 5 classes, students are required to write a one - three paragraph response detailing the questions that the readings raised for your research. Ideally these questions will connect themes across the readings and open up possible points of discussion for the class. This should be posted as a reply on Sakai in the appropriate Class Discussion forum by the Saturday prior to class. These postings are intended to provide the discussion leaders with guidance for planning class discussion, so please do not submit them late.

Inspiration Presentation (10%): Much of this course is dedicated to addressing the very difficult and painful aspects of research, the ones that most challenge us and sometimes seem unsurmountable. To counterbalance this aspect of the course, we would like each student to find and present on one source of inspiration, that is, one research method or project (whether academic, artistic, or activist in nature) that can serve as a personal inspiration. This assignment will entail locating something you can share with the class about the project (e.g., a website or article), writing up a very brief description, describing the project and what you find inspiring to the class, and, finally, uploading the link and short description to the Sakai wiki so we can build a class database of inspiration.

Research Outline (10%): This one page document will serve as a brief introduction to your research for your instructors and for the class, and as the foundation for your final project. It will include a summary of your research questions, the methods you are using to address those questions, and an initial description of the key problem that you hope to work through in this class. A template will be provided on Sakai.

Workshop Presentation (10%): In the last third of the semester, we will devote each class to addressing the problems faced by individual students as they navigate the research process. Students should identify one key problem in their research involving ethics, relationships in the field, or the structure of knowledge production, and come to their colleagues ready to work on that particular problem. To prepare for the class, students should find an article that helps them think through this issue and send it to the instructors at least a week before their presentation.

Students will also write a two-page single spaced description of the problem that they want to work on. This description should include a very brief description (one paragraph) of their research questions and methods, and the remainder of the paper should be comprised of a preliminary and frank assessment of the problems they face, ideally drawing on readings and course materials as they are relevant. This paper should be sent out to the class by Friday afternoon before your assigned date.

Come to class prepared to talk informally for ten minutes about the issue. You will also be assessed on your constructive and helpful feedback to your colleagues throughout the last third of the class. More details on this assignment will be provided in class and on Sakai.

Final Paper (20%): Students in the class are expected to complete a 20-25 page paper connecting their research with materials and discussion from the class. While students can work with the professors to design a suitable project, the most common approach will be a detailed design of the student's upcoming research. For students in the early stages of project development, a critique of existing methodologies and approaches, would be appropriate. And for students who have already completed their research, the most logical project would be a methods chapter for their dissertation. Students are encouraged to pick a structure that best serves their current academic needs.


Honor Code

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has had a student-administered honor system and judicial system for over 100 years. The system is the responsibility of students and is regulated and governed by them, but faculty share the responsibility. If you have questions about your responsibility under the honor code, please bring them to your instructor or consult with the office of the Dean of Students or the Instrument of Student Judicial Governance at: This document, adopted by the Chancellor, the Faculty Council, and the Student Congress, contains all policies and procedures pertaining to the student honor system. Your full participation and observance of the honor code is expected.

Plagiarism in the form of deliberate or reckless representation of another's words, thoughts, images or ideas as one's own without attribution in connection with submission of academic work, whether graded or otherwise. Plagiarism will not be tolerated in this class and will result in a failing grade for the class and suspension for one academic semester. Materials for class assignments should be produced specifically for this class unless prior approval from the professor is granted.

There is one required book:

Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples

This book is available through the University bookstores or the internet. All other readings are provided on Sakai under resources.



Week 1 (1.12) - Introduction to Course

Introduce course and discuss syllabus. Introduce research interests. Sign-up for leading class AND inspiration presentations.


Week 2 (1.19) - No Class: Happy MLK Day!


Week 3 (1.26) - Decolonizing Methodologies

Discuss readings. Inspiration Presentations.

Readings for class: Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Books, 1999.

*Al-Hardan, Anaheed 2013. "Decolonizing Research on Palestinians: Towards Critical Epistemologies and Research Practices." Qualitative Inquiry 20(1): 61-71.


Week 4 (2.2) - Knowledge and Difference

Discuss reading. Inspiration Presentations.

Readings for class: Ranco, D. J. 2006. "Toward a Native Anthropology: Hermeneutics, Hunting Stories, and Theorizing from Within." Wicazo Sa Review 21 (2): 61–78.

Abu-Lughod, L. 2002. "Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others." American Anthropologist 104 (3): 783–790.

Mertens, Donna, Martin Sullivan and Hilary Stace 2011. Disability Communities: Transformative Research for Social Justice. In The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S Lincoln, eds. London: SAGE Publications: 227-242.

Simpson, Audra. 2007. "On Ethnographic Refusal: Indigeneity, 'Voice' and Colonial Citizenship." Junctures (December 9): 67-80.


Week 5 (2.9) - Positionality

Discuss reading. Inspiration Presentations.    

Readings for class: *Smith, Sarah 2014. "Intimacy and angst in the field." Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography: 1-14.

Nagar, Richa. 2002. "Footloose Researchers, 'Traveling' Theories, and the Politics of Transnational Feminist Praxis." Gender, Place and Culture: a Journal of Feminist Geography 9: 179–186.

Valentine, Gill. 2002. "People Like Us: Negotiating Sameness and Difference in the Research Process." In Feminist Geography in Practice, edited by Pamela Moss, 116–126. Oxford: Blackwell.


Week 6 (2.16) - Strategies of Inquiry: Collaboration

Discuss reading. Inspiration Presentations. Community expert visit. 

Readings for class: Sangtin Writers Collective, and R. Nagar. 2006. Playing with Fire: Feminist Thought and Activism through Seven Lives in India. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. XXI-XLVII, 3-14, 92-109, and 132-155.

*Middleton, Elisabeth Rose 2010 Seeking Spatial Representation: Reflections on Participatory Ethnohistorical GIS Mapping of Maidu Allotment Lands. Ethnohistory 57(3):363-387.

Benson, Koni, and Richa Nagar. 2006. "Collaboration as Resistance? Reconsidering the Processes, Products, and Possibilities of Feminist Oral History and Ethnography." Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 13 (5) (October 1): 581–592.


Week 7 (2.23) - Strategies of Inquiry:

Discuss reading. Inspiration Presentations.

Readings for class:



Week 8 (3.2) - Strategies of Inquiry:

Discuss reading. Inspiration Presentations.

Due: Research Outline

Readings for class: Sheftel, Anna and Stacy Zembrzycki (2010) Only Human: A Reflection on the Ethical and Methodological Challenges of Working with " Difficult " Stories. In The Oral History Review 37(2):191-214.

Pollack, Soshana (2003). Focus-Group Methodology in Research with Incarcerated Women: Race, Power, and Collective Experience. Affilia, 461-472


Week 9 (3.9) - Spring Break    


Week 10 (3.16) - Strategies of Inquiry:

Discuss assigned readings. Inspiration Presentations.    

Readings for class: Le Greco, Marianne & Tracey, Sarah (2009). Discourse Tracing as Qualitative Practice. Qualitative Inquiry Volume 15 No. 9, 1516-1543.

*Williams, Jill R (2010). Doing feminist-demography. International Journal of Social Research Methodology 13(3): 197-210.




Week 11 (3.23) - Student Workshops

Workshop student problems

Due: Workshop Paper

Readings for class: Student papers and student chosen articles.


Week 12 (3.30) - Student Workshops

Workshop student problems

Due: Workshop Paper

Readings for class: Student papers and student chosen articles.


Week 13 (4.6) - Student Workshops

Workshop student problems

Due: Workshop Paper

Readings for class: Student papers and student chosen articles.


Week 14 (4.13) - Student Workshops

Workshop student problems

Due: Workshop Paper

Readings for class: Student papers and student chosen articles.


Week 15 (4.20) - Student Workshops

Workshop student problems

Due: Workshop Paper

Readings for class: Student papers and student chosen articles.


Final Exam (TBA) - Final Project Due








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