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Chowra Makaremi

This chapter highlights ethnography, which is a method developed in the practice of ethnology, a subdiscipline of anthropology dedicated to the study of peoples using a micro-analytical and comparative perspective. Ethnographic methods such as immersion and micro-analysis have influenced qualitative research in sociology since the rise of the Chicago school of sociology. However, it is only since the 1970s that anthropologists have started to apply their research methods to their own societies. A founding principle of ethnographic knowledge lies in the notion of alterity and the idea that being an outsider to a culture may bring specific insights and questions about dimensions of social life that are interiorized as ‘natural’ and obvious by those native to that culture. What opened the path to ethnographizing one’s own society was the understanding that this productive and scientific use of alterity was not related to some intrinsic qualities of the researchers or the people they study, but to the ability to develop an estranged gaze, even on one’s own social world.


This chapter discusses the principles of ethnography and participant observation: what they are, how (if) they became standardized as a research method, what form of evidence they constitute, and what place they occupy in the study of Politics. Participant observation has emerged as a popular research tool across the social sciences. In particular, political ethnographies are now widely carried out in a broad variety of contexts, from the study of political institutions and organizations to the investigation of social movements and informal networks, such as terrorist groups and drugs cartels. Political ethnography is also becoming a research method of choice in the field of International Relations. The chapter examines the strengths of ethnographic fieldwork, focusing on issues relating to sampling, access, key informants, and collecting observational data. It also addresses the weaknesses of ethnography, especially issues of subjectivity, reliability, and generalizability.


This chapter looks at nomothetic and idiographic methods. Knowing the purpose helps the researcher define the scope conditions of the research, and will also reveal whether the research should be nomothetic or idiographic. Nomothetic research aims to identify laws about human behaviour — the Greek word ‘nomos’ means ‘law’. It assumes that it is possible to discover regularities of influence or behaviour, allowing experts to predict the likely outcomes of possible actions or innovations. As such, it looks for general principles, not special cases. Idiographic research, by contrast, is all about exploring individuality or uniqueness. Idiographic research tends to focus on a single example, which might be a person, an event, a phenomenon, or an organization, and to analyse that example in-depth. As a result, idiographic methods are often used in case studies, and are characteristic of ethnographic research.


This chapter looks into the development of sociological approaches to the study of human rights. It explains how sociology covered the ride of human rights through shared human vulnerability and collective sympathy, institutional threats, and assertion of powerful class interests, while anthropology deepened the understanding of socially constructed rights. Sociologists tend to view rights as inventions or products of human social interaction and power relations. The chapter then expounds on the concept of social constructionism in relation to power and social structure. It also explains that an ethnographic approach to human rights showcases how human rights function and their meaning to different social actors in varying social contexts.


8. The European Commission:  

the cabinets and the services

Frédéric Mérand

Focusing on the services and the cabinets, this chapter analyses the European Commission as a complex organizational, political, and social institution. Organizationally, it describes the Commission as a unique international bureaucracy which puts its French administrative tradition, consensus-based, and law-heavy internal procedures under the growing influence of an Anglo-American style of management. Politically, the chapter shows that the Commission increasingly behaves like a political executive that seeks to establish its own legitimacy vis-à-vis public opinion and member states by addressing partisan dynamics in the European Parliament. In terms of social relations, the chapter draws from the author’s ethnographic work to explore the transnational life of Commission civil servants and cabinet staffers who have made the Berlaymont their home.


Political Research: Methods and Practical Skills provides a practical and relevant guide to the research process for students. It equips readers with the knowledge and skills needed to evaluate research findings and successfully carry out independent study and research. Taking a helpful step-by-step approach, the chapters guide the reader through the process of asking and answering research questions and the different methods used in political research, providing practical advice on how to be critical and rigorous in both evaluating and conducting research. Topics include research design, surveys, interviewing and focus groups, ethnography and participant observation, textual analysis, quantitative analysis, bivariate analysis, and multivariate analysis. With an emphasis throughout on how research can impact important political questions and policy issues, the book equips readers with the skills to formulate significant questions and develop meaningful and persuasive answers.


This chapter focuses on the basic principles of research design. It first considers different types of research design, including experimental designs, cross-sectional and longitudinal designs, comparative designs, and historical research designs. It also discusses two types of research validity: internal validity and external validity. The chapter proceeds by describing various methods of data collection and the sort of data or evidence each provides, including questionnaires and surveys, interviewing and focus groups, ethnographic research, and discourse/content analysis. Finally, it examines six issues that must be taken into account to ensure ethical research: voluntary participation, informed consent, privacy, harm, exploitation, and consequences for future research.