Workshop on Perspectives: Ethnographic Research Methods for Activists by Sambhaavnaa Institute, Himachal Pradesh [Oct 14-17]: Register Now!

Are you a professional in an area that tries to make changes (for the better) in other people’s lives? Does your work get broadly described as a change agent or development practitioner or activist?

Your work of making change and having an improvement in the current state of someone else’s life may require understanding these people’s perspectives on who they are, what role you may play in their lives, what they think their own location in the community and the larger world.

If these questions are relevant to the work you do, you would definitely benefit from a conversation with practitioners of sociocultural anthropology.

About Anthropology and its Peculiar Method

Anthropology was a key form of knowledge through which colonial rulers came to know about their native subjects in the colonies – especially people who were different from people in European countries.

Anthropology, thus, has struggled through the twentieth century, to come to terms with its methodology ethnography. What does it mean for a bunch of researchers (usually trained in privileged parts of the world) to go and study in deep intimacy – the lives of Others – the lives of people who usually live in relative deprivation or disadvantage?

The very practical choice of fieldsite and communities of ‘native’ subjects to be studied, was made possible by European imperial investment in societies of ‘difference’. Much of this travel into another’s life has changed in its pattern of execution and in its philosophy, across the twentieth century.

Ethnography is the method of talking, seeing, documenting to establish a sense of other people’s lives – used by anthropologists. The notion of ‘difference’ is fundamental to this technique, while a long-drawn us-them grapple continues with ‘our’ lives of modernity.

Ethnography and anthropology go hand-in-hand, but there are possibilities of usage of ethnographic method outside of the disciplinary domain of anthropology. Who are we? Who are they? These questions come to the forefront of many of our lives – as policymakers, journalists, activists and many other professions that operate outside of academia.


This workshop conducted over three days (see plan below) aims at:

  • Day 1 – bringing ethnographic research techniques to people outside the university system, especially those who work in the interventionist or activist mode. This requires engagement with some reading material on the first two days.
  • Day 2 – Constructing research questions and dummy research projects touching on issues like poverty, discrimination, misgovernance, conflict situations.
  • Day 3 – Bringing to the forefront, the elements of mutual dialogue, situational sensitivity and understanding in furthering the work of activists. Students begin to develop their own projects in the latter half of the day and conduct some interviews.
  • Day 3 &4 – Writing, an essential part of ethnographic research. Participants will write a short ethnography based on their pilot research on the previous days.

Target Participants

This workshop will be useful for activists, change agents, lawyers, development practitioners, maybe even artists and design professionals.


The workshop explains what ethnographic research is and what kinds of things it can be useful for. I will use the first two sessions to introduce ethnography as a research technique of anthropology. I will unpack what I like to call a point of view about points of view’.

This discussion will depend on unpacking some previously distributed reading material, that participants will have to come having read beforehand. In the third session, I urge participants to develop a small research project and apply the method to their own research question.

Noticebard WhatsApp - Telegram Group
Noticebard WhatsApp - Telegram Group

The final session focuses on a small writing assignment where each participant will share their work with the rest of the group. The workshop can only admit twenty participants.

Day 1

Introduction (9 am – 1 pm)

Reading: Hurston, Zora Neale. Mules & Men (1935). Ch. 1 & 2 (pdf will be shared)

A brief lecture on ethnography and anthropology
Why do research? – discussion
Are activist agendas and academic research complementary? – discussion
Representative turn
Anthropology and Fiction
Anthropology and Journalism

Film: Passage to India by David Lean.

Day 2

Reading: Agee, James. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941). Introduction (pdf will be shared)

What is a research question? – discussion
Is it possible to know another’s the world through ethnography?
Limits of the method.
Ethics/Politics of representation

Drafting of pilot research questions/proposals.

Film: Aakaler Shondhane by Mrinal Sen (1981)

Day 3

Participants present their research questions
Everyone comments on each question
Redrafting of questions
How to take notes?
Individual identification of the site, subjects, objects
Discussion of feasibility
Afternoon – Participants walk to the town bazaar and nearby villages to conduct interviews, observe and take notes.

Evening – Participants write up their ethnography

Day 4

Individual Presentation of ethnographic notes
Discussion, comments
Discussion of how to proceed if each project were to be undertaken on a longer-term
About the facilitator: Atreyee Majumder

I am a historical and political anthropologist with a focus on the impact of capitalism on space and time. My monograph Time, Space, and Capital in India: Longing and Belonging in an Urban-Industrial Hinterland (Routledge 2018) addresses the intersection of time, space and capital through an ethnography of public life in an urban-industrial hinterland in eastern India. My current research focuses on Vaishnavite devotional practices in north India.

I am currently an Assistant Professor at the National Law School of India University. I received my PhD from the Department of Anthropology at Yale University in 2014. I was recently an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute, University of Toronto (2016-18).

I have a law degree from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore (2006) and practised law and conducted legal research in New Delhi on questions of land, environment, water rights and indigeneity. I have worked in public interest legal practice in New Delhi and have been engaged in ethnographic research and teaching anthropology in Bangalore and Toronto since I completed my PhD.

My work has appeared in many peer-reviewed venues including SAMAJ and the Economic and Political Weekly. I have written extensively in varied genres in the popular press including The Wire, Scroll, Open Magazine, 3 AM Magazine, two of my short fiction pieces are published in the Bangalore Review (2015) and the RIC Journal (2018). I have been a Contributing Editor (2016-2018) for the journal Cultural Anthropology.

Dates and Venue: 14th to 17th June, 2021, Sambhaavnaa Institute, VPO – Kandbari, Tehsil – Palampur, District – Kangra, PIN 176061, Himachal Pradesh

Contribution towards Programs Costs: We hope that participants would contribute an amount of Rs. 4500/- towards workshop expenses, inclusive of all on-site workshop costs: boarding, lodging, and all the materials used in the workshop.

Need-based partial waivers are available; we have a very limited number of partial waivers, so, please apply for a waiver only if you really need it. Please do remember that there may be others who need it more than you.


English (with Hindi translation)

How to Register?

Interested participants can register for the workshop through this link.


For any other info: WhatsApp or call Shashank: 889 422 7954 (between 10 am to 5 pm), and e-mail:

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