Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Research profile

Ethnographic fieldwork is currently undergoing dramatic change and retooling. Anthropologists are experimenting with fieldwork in new ways as they are called upon to understand the themes and contexts of the contemporary world. Global hot spots, high-tech research centres, hospitals, schools and kindergardens, supermarkets, online networks and businesses are today supplementing the tropical and arctic locales that used to define the discipline. As a result, the native ‘informant’ of classical anthropology is increasingly being replaced by new kinds of collaborators: activists, consumers, school children, politicians, scientists and business executives. Lastly, fieldwork is no longer the monopoly of anthropology but has become an important addition to research methods across a wide range of disciplines.

These changes call for renewed reflection on anthropological practice, its theories, ethics and epistemology; they also open up for interdisciplinary approaches and new forms of comparison and analysis. Contemporary Ethnography provides an interdisciplinary forum for these reflections.

The research programme focuses on how anthropological practice can be rethought in the encounter with today’s global, mediated, politically complex, economically unstable, high-tech world. It is open to all scientists who use a fieldwork-based and comparative approach in their research and who wish to further develop this approach in their efforts to understand contemporary cultural and social issues.

The point of departure of the research programme Contemporary Ethnography is that ‘ethnography’ is more than method. Fieldwork is not the mere execution of a research protocol, a set of interview techniques or questionnaires or a long-term period of  'hanging-out' with informants to gain their trust. More importantly, fieldwork always implies epistemological, ethical and analytical reflection about itself – its own general politics and concrete approach.

The research programme seeks to develop insight into how this dialectic between empirical research and theoretical reflection can be retooled into new forms of fieldwork-based research that can provide new knowledge of topics which we thought we already understood, topics that range from climate change, poverty, democracy, and violent conflicts to creativity in business or the revival of religion in the 21st century.

The overall aim of the programme is:

  • To develop the theoretical and academic foundations for fieldwork-based studies of contemporary human lives and societal problems.
  • To experiment with new forms of qualitative methodology, innovative forms of cultural comparison, and interdisciplinary forms of knowledge production.
  • To revitalise traditional discussions about knowledge, validity and relevance of the humanities.