MSc African Studies Core Course 1

Methodology, Ethics and Research Strategies

This core course introduces students to the many disciplinary, thematic, practical and ethical issues involved in researching Africa. Awareness of methodology is central to a critical approach to scholarship, and essential in developing the skills in research design that must be the first step toward the completion of a successful dissertation within this MSc programme. This course is therefore both intellectually rigorous and practical.

The emphasis is upon the distinctive approaches of the various disciplines involved in African Studies, although many of the research strategies to be addressed are of course not unique to Africa. Therefore, whilst readings for the course focuses upon African examples, students are encouraged to consider the ways in which methods devised in other areas may be applied in the circumstances of research in Africa. The course tackles issues of interdisciplinarity and methodological pluralism, as well as the practical issues of preparing for fieldwork and preliminary issues of research ethics in the African context.

Teaching on this course has two elements. The first is a series of eight lectures, each dealing with a particular methodology or research strategy. The lectures will be supported by classes, in which students will consider specific examples of research practice through a close reading of case study materials. Students will be expected to make short presentations for the classes. Each student must complete two essays, of approximately 2,000 words each, linked to the research design of their dissertation. These essays do not count toward the final course assessment.

The second element of the teaching comprises a series of four participatory seminars, in which students will present their preliminary plans for dissertation work within the MSc programme. These seminars will assist students in developing their own research design and in refining their methodologies for their chosen topics of research.

Topics to be covered in the lectures may include surveys, sampling and social categories; ethnography, participant observation and interviewing; oral history and life histories; social capital, networks and hidden samples; archival research, texts and the internet; visual sources, including film and photographs; participatory action research and research ethics; and the potential uses of Quantitative Methods.

Some useful readings relevant to the course:

Grinker, R.R. & C.B. Steiner (eds) Perspectives on Africa: a reader in culture, history and representation, Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.
Bates, R.H., V.Y. Mudimbe & J.F. O'Barr Africa and the disciplines: the contributions of research in Africa to the social sciences and humanities, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
Jewsiewicki, Bogumil, and David Newbury, eds. African Historiographies: What History for Which Africa? (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1986).
L. White, S. Miescher & D.W. Cohen (eds) African words, African voices: critical practices in oral history, Bloomington, Ind., 2001.
M. Ntarangwi, D. Mills & M.H.M. Babiker (eds) African anthropologies: history, critique, and practice, London ; New York
Moore, S.F. Anthropology and Africa: changing perspectives on a changing scene, Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1994.
Banks, Marcus (2001) Visual Methods in Social Research. London: Sage.
Landau, Paul S. & Deborah D. Kaspin (2002) Images and Empires: Visuality in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa, Berkeley: University of California Press
Devereux, S. & J. Hoddinott (eds) Fieldwork in Developing Countries, Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992.
M. Bratton, R.B. Mattes & E. Gyimah-Boadi (eds) Public opinion, democracy, and market reform in Africa, New York, 2004.

Please address your enquiries concerning the MSc in African Studies to: african.studies@africa.ox.ac.uk.