Susanne Bregnbæk, Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen

Learning to think like an anthropologist

During the Spring/Summer of 2013 I have been engaged in a pedagogical project, which has had the aim of letting a few BA students do a mini-fieldwork as part of their BA essay. This is not a requirement and officially students at our department are discouraged from working with their own fieldwork data, unless they are building on fieldwork carried out as part of a previous methodology course, since fieldwork is considered to be too time consuming and thus a daunting task to undertake while taking two other courses simultaneously.  However, as an experiment I have several groups doing fieldwork on various topics trying out a hypothesis that ‘less is more’. My working assumption is that having some primary ethnographic data is likely to generate new reflections and insights that can benefit the students’ learning process even though their own data cannot stand alone and must speak to other more substantial ethnographic work within the same or a closely related topic. Thus the intension is to try to shift the emphasis on the learning result to the learning process. Overall, I have experienced a tremendous enthusiasm among the students who have volunteered to be part of this project and who are willing to devote a lot of time to it despite the fact that they have other exams and courses to take as well. This was especially the case for one student who was abroad as an exchange student, while writing her BA- but who seems to have benefitted a lot from being encouraged to seize the opportunities that arose in order to investigate her immediate surroundings – displaying a mature ability to integrate empirical and interpretive work.  One student however, also had to abandon his project due to ethical concerns and time reasons. However, I think such a failed project may not have been totally fruitless since he is likely to be better equipped for choosing a feasible research topic, when he has to carry out his MA fieldwork.