Swiss Summer School 2003

Karen O'Reilly
Ethnographic and Qualitative Research Methodologies

Karen O'Reilly

Karen O'Reilly is a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She has taught ethnographic and qualitative methods at Oxford, Essex and Aberdeen, including the Essex Summer School in Social Science Data Collection and Analysis. She gained her PhD in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of Essex in 1996. Her thesis, now published as a monograph titled The British on the Costa del Sol, was based on fifteen months intensive ethnographic fieldwork with the British community in Southern Spain. However, her work is not all qualitative; she has also spent three years working on the UK government review of social classifications analysing Labour Force Survey data on occupations. Her current research, again in Spain, is exploring integration between migrants and hosts.

Karen O'Reilly's Web page

Workshop contents and objectives

This course provides an introduction to ethnographic research methods, including interviews and participant observation. Designed for social science practitioners of a range of disciplinary backgrounds, it encourages a critical and creative approach to qualitative research. The course includes a strong practical element, encouraging participants to think about their own research interests and to carry out project work, including a small-scale participant observation study and qualitative interviews. Participants will learn to make close, theory-oriented observations, to record observations, and to analyse the data produced through participation, involvement and conversation. Specific topics to be addressed include: the philosophy of social research; a brief history of ethnographic methods; plan and design; unstructured and semi-structured interviews; participant observation; visual and historical data; issues of validity, ethics and politics; analysis and writing.

On completion of the course, participants will be equipped to analyse critically a diversity of approaches within qualitative methodology and to conduct independent research. Participants will be encouraged to view ethnographic research as a methodology that can be combined with quantitative approaches for a diverse range of social, political and policy research areas.


Basic text/ Background reading (1 of the following)

Other reading (sample of material the course covers)


There are no specific prerequisites other than a desire to engage with the course on a practical and applied level. However, a background in social science and some preparatory reading are highly recommended (see bibliography).