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 considers the main types of data used in Politics and International Relations, as well as the main criteria by which to judge whether the data collected is good or not. It first describes the steps involved in the process of thinking about what data or evidence is relevant to answering a research question before discussing the importance of addressing issues of validity and reliability in research. Some of these issues are illustrated by referring to recent attempts to measure corruption, a major topic of interest in Politics and International Relations. The chapter also examines the issue of case selection as well as the collection of qualitative and quantitative data using methods such as interviewing and observation. Finally, it analyses the so-called ‘big data’ revolution in data collection and analysis, and provides a data quality checklist.